Skip to Content

5 Unexpected Cities Named Best U.S. Summer Destinations According To New Report

Share The Article

Last Updated

If you’re still looking for that next great place to explore this summer but feeling low on inspiration, you’ll be happy to learn that USA Today just released its long-awaited “Best Summer Destination 2024” awards.

An expert panel nominated dozens of cities across the U.S., including traditional beachy hubs and inland retreats.

Woman overlooking Catalina Island, California

Readers then voted to determine the final ranking, and when the list was finally revealed, the results were anything but expected.

One trend we see repeatedly in these types of lists is that smaller, more underrated places are finally emerging from the shadows of their better-known neighbors.

So, if you’re looking for a place that’s just as serene and authentic as it is gorgeous, you’ve come to the right place.

5. Laurel Highlands, Pennsylvania

Fallingwater over Bear Run waterfall in the Laurel Highlands

Coming in at no. 5 is what most would consider an alternative summer destination – there’s no beach in sight, but the jaw-dropping landscapes, fascinating history, and endless recreational opportunities more than make up for that.

How would you spend your days here, you might ask?

Whitewater rafting on the Youghiogheny River should be the first item on your itinerary.

Don’t worry if you’re totally inexperienced, either, here, you’ll find everything from Class I to IV rapids, just make sure to consult with someone who knows what they’re doing beforehand so you’re always staying on course.

Not a big fan of rafting?

Scale things back a bit and go for a hike through Ferncliff Peninsula – not only are the river views here amazing but this also happens to be home to some of Pennsylvania’s rarest, most gorgeous plants.

Those seeking a more culturally enriching experience instead will love a sightseeing trip through Fallingwater, Kentuck Knob, and the Flight 93 National Memorial.

As far as you don’t mind a cooler summer, Laurel Highlands offers everything you’d want and more!

4. Cody, Wyoming

Cody, Wyoming

You might know Cody as the quintessential Old West town that’s located right near the eastern entrance of Yellowstone, but with its unique blend of history, nature, and undiluted charm, the area is an incredible attraction in and of its own.

I’ll tell you right off the bat, though, that you won’t get the typical summer experience here.

Instead, you’ll get to dive right into Cody’s proud Wild West heritage (places like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West are perfect for that), go hiking, fishing, or camping at the Shoshone National Forest, and take regular day trips to Yellowstone.

3. Catalina Island, California

Catalina Island

It’s about time we moved on to a more traditional summer hub, and what better place to do just that than Catalina Island, one of California’s best-hidden gems?

A darling resort time nestled just southwest of Los Angeles, Catalina Island exudes a Mediterranean-like look and charm that’ll make you feel like you’re vacationing somewhere in Greece or Italy.

And whether you’re here for the pristine beaches, the cultural offerings of Avalon, or the virtually endless snorkeling, hiking, and scuba diving opportunities, this small Californian town will blow all of your expectations out of the water.

2. Ocean City, New Jersey

Ocean City, New Jersey

This next destination is a more classic American seaside hub – it has everything from family-friendly amenities and gorgeous beaches to an iconic boardwalk and a buzzing dining scene.

And I wasn’t kidding when I said “family-friendly amenities.”

Between places like Gillian’s Wonderland Pier and Playland’s Castaway Cove and the fact that the entire town is alcohol-free (yes, you read that right), this is the perfect place for those bringing their little ones along to just sit back, relax, and have a good time.

1. Mackinac Island, Michigan

Harbor in Mackinac Island

Drum roll, please…

America’s best summer destination is none other than Mackinac Island, the most charming little summer hub you’ll ever come across.

Coming here, you’ll feel like you’ve taken a step back in time – between all the untouched beaches and vehicle-free streets, you’ll wonder how it’s even possible a place like this exists alongside all the overcrowded tourist traps.

As serene as Mackinac Island is, though, it’s by no means boring.

Fort Mackinac, the Grand Hotel, and the iconic Mackinac Island State Park all promise to keep you not only entertained but fully in awe.

Lastly, if you do come here, don’t forget to try the world-famous fudge (Murdick’s and Ryba’s, in particular, is excellent) – the recipes have been perfected for over a century, and you can 100% tell.

↓ Elevate Your Travel↓

Sign Up Now For Travel Off Path Premium! No ads, VIP Content, Personal Travel Concierge, Huge Savings, Daily Deals, Members Forum & More!

✈️Join Our Travel Off Path Community Forum: Where travelers unite, ask questions, share experiences and even find like-minded travel buddies!


Enter your email address to subscribe to Travel Off Path's latest breaking travel news, straight to your inbox.

This article originally appeared on

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.