Chilling at the beach and picnics in the park, rooting for your favorite sports team and singing along to a band at a festival, shopping till you drop and dancing the night away. When it comes to summer, there’s no shortage of things to do to make the most of the season’s long days and cool nights. The only real question is… how to choose where to go?
We at Best Cities believe that it’s never too late to start planning a getaway—particularly a summer getaway.
So we looked at the data across 10 categories, we ran the numbers, and came up with a list of cities that offer that ideal combination of great weather and even better attractions, stellar nightlife, restaurants and shopping, plus interesting culture and museums. We narrowed our list even further by taking into account those things that just about every traveler values when going somewhere: airport connectivity (because nobody wants a bunch of connections to get there) and safety (because duh).
Perhaps to the surprise of absolutely no one (at least, no one who’s familiar with our America’s Best City report), New York came up on top for the best city to visit this summer. The city is #1 so emphatically and so often—this year, besides being first overall, it’s first in Neighborhoods, first in Nightlife, Museums, Shopping, Restaurants, Culture, Safety and Pro Sports Teams. It comes in second for Connectivity and third for Parks & Outdoors and Attractions. Okay, New York ranks 27th for Weather, proving that nobody (and no city) is perfect.
America’s best large city is an experiential powerhouse obsessed with welcoming the world. Take, for example, its newest neighborhood, Hudson Yards. Here’s a destination that’s home to a wealth of walking, running, sleeping, dining and even meditation-while-getting-a-manicure wellness experiences. There’s something for just about everyone. At Vessel, design enthusiasts can actively experience a soaring new landmark by climbing it. At the first-ever Equinox Hotel, wellness and fitness geeks can detox, retox, sleep, rinse and repeat. Meanwhile, Sundays flagship nail salon is a sanctuary of wellness and self-care, serving up vegan and nontoxic mani-pedis.
But Hudson Yards is not the only new game in town. Interesting shopping can be found in unexpected places elsewhere: on 5th, Nike Lab has joined Adidas and other athletic powerhouses in creating engaging sneaker-shopping experiences. South Street Seaport is home to the highly-experiential 10 Corso Como, and Appear Here, an international organizer of pop-ups, has set up shop, helping small New York retailers find temporary venues. Phew, tired of hearing how awesome New York is? Neither are we.
But for the sake of shining a light on some of the other amazing cities in America, we’re skipping New York this summer. Here’s where else to go.
#1 Los Angeles
#2: Weather, Restaurants, Attractions, Museums, Pro Sports Teams | #4: Neighborhoods, Culture, Shopping, Safety | #5: Nightlife | #6: Parks & Outdoors, Connectivity | #8: Safety
In 2018, Los Angeles welcomed a staggering 50 million visitors and in doing so accomplished the destination’s tourism goal two years early. Enviable golden sunlight? Check. Miles of beautiful coastline? Check. A diverse culinary scene and dynamic cultural landscape? Check and check. Unsurprisingly, the City of Angels lands at #3 across four Resonance categories: Place, Product, Programming and Promotion. There’s never a bad time to go to L.A. but go in summer and you can join the hoards of movie-lovers at Hollywood Forever cemetery to watch a classic cult favorite near the resting place of greats like Rudolph Valentino and Bugsy Siegel. You can listen to the LA Phil—deemed “the most important orchestra in America” by the New York Times—at the Hollywood Bowl, a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills. You can spend the afternoon exploring vibrant neighborhoods like Silverlake, DTLA, and Echo Park, where galleries, boutiques, cafes and bars line the palm tree dotted streets. You can catch a game at Dodger Stadium then hit an al fresco taco truck or a dive bar for a small-batch brew.
#1: Connectivity | #2: Nightlife, Culture | #3: Neighborhoods, Pro Sports Teams, Restaurants | #5: Museums | #6: Shopping | #7: Attractions | #9: Parks & Outdoors | #21: Safety | #40: Weather
The Windy City gets maybe three months of picture-perfect weather (thus, its 40th spot on our Weather sub-category) so it’s no surprise then that it truly comes alive in the summer months. Miles of beaches, a plethora of bars and restaurants with rooftop patios, iconic spots like Millennium Park and Grant Park, baseball games at Wrigley Field (the second oldest ballpark in the majors behind Fenway Park), and an incredible lineup of festivals, including Lollapalooza, the Chicago Fringe Festival, Taste of Chicago round out the reasons why a Chicago visit in summer is a must.
#3 Las Vegas
#1: Weather, Attractions | #3: Nightlife, Culture | #5: Parks & Outdoors | #7: Shopping, Restaurants | #10: Safety | #14: Connectivity | #16: Neighborhoods | #18: Museums | #35: Pro Sports Teams
What happens in Vegas doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Case in point, you can ride a gondola at the Venetian in the morning, see views atop the Eiffel Tower at Paris at noon, enjoy a history lesson at the Mob Museum or the Neon Museum, go on a hike or mountain bike ride at Red Rock Canyon at sunset, and be back downtown at Fremont Street Experience for a light show and dinner from the many food stands in the district. Oh, and you can make or break your bank account anywhere, any time of day or night. The best weather in the country and an impressive #5 for its Outdoors & Parks have helped Sin City remain in the Top 5 for our deep Place category. For a city in a desert, that’s no small feat.
#4 San Francisco
#2: Neighborhoods | #3: Shopping | #4: Parks & Outdoors, Nightlife | #5: Restaurants, Culture | #6: Museums | #9: Weather | #14: Pro Sports Teams | #17: Attractions | #18: Connectivity | #48: Safety
The city does a lot of things well. Tacos, museums, nightlife and parks come to mind. Summer weather? Not so much. As Mark Twain famously quipped, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Sure, it’s foggy out but it adds to the city’s iconic sense of place as much as its rollercoaster-tall streets, its Golden Gate Bridge and a come-as-you-are attitude. The inaugural Michelin Guide California was recently released and features 90 starred restaurants. San Francisco, which ranks fifth in our Restaurants subcategory, fared well with three new one-starred restaurants. Joshua Skenes’s “sea life-focused eatery,” Angler, which opened up on the Embarcadero waterfront last fall; Sorrel, the sleek Cal-Ital eatery from Alex Hong, Colby Heiman, Samuel Bogue and Brennan Spreitzer in the Marina; and Maum, which Michelin inspectors say, “offers an incredibly exciting dining experience.”
#5 San Diego
#1: Parks & Outdoors | #4: Safety | #6: Restaurants | #7: Nightlife | #8: Neighborhoods | #9: Weather, Attractions, Museums, Culture | #24: Connectivity | #35: Pro Sports Teams
Near-perfect temperatures year round, 70 miles of beaches, globally lauded attractions and a dizzying spectrum of dining and nightlife options help land California’s Beach City at #6 in our America’s Best Large Cities this year. Where the city beats the competition is in its plethora of parks and outdoors offerings. If the beach is not your thing, you could spend an entire day (or three), exploring Balboa Park, which is home to museums, theaters, gardens, and the outstanding San Diego Zoo. In fact, a full day is hardly enough to cover all that the zoo has to offer, including a guided bus tour, animal shows and films, children’s play areas, and special programs like overnight experiences and early morning photo expeditions. For something entirely different, there’s Comic-Con, which returns to San Diego in mid-July for four days of science fiction, fantasy and superheroes.
#2: Parks & Outdoors | #9: Pro Sports Teams | #10: Connectivity, Restaurants | #11: Attractions, Shopping | #12: Nightlife | #15: Museums | | #20: Neighborhoods | #25: Culture | #27: Safety | #46: Weather
Sure, it’s hot, but don’t let that keep you from visiting. Set at the crossroads of Latin America both in geography and culture, Miami is a scintillating destination for travelers from near and far thanks to direct flights, great highways and a range of chic accommodations and attractions for all budgets and lifestyles. While it may be true that the city slows down a bit in the summer months, what that means for visitors is great rates at hotels, tours and activities. 99% humidity, you say? That’s why pools were invented—and if any city knows how to throw a good pool party, it’s Miami. The Standard, Fontainebleau, Hyde Beach, 1 Hotel, The Vagabond…the list of hotels that turn their pools into social gathering spots goes on and on. For families, water parks are the way to go and are easily accessible from most Miami neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the Design District is quickly becoming the must-do destination for art. Drop in for a free tour of the area’s public artworks or to shop at luxury boutiques that line the vibrant streets.
#4: Weather | #5: Attractions | #9: Pro Sports Teams | #10: Parks & Outdoors, Museums | #11: Connectivity, Nightlife | #12: Neighborhoods | #13: Shopping, Culture | #19: Restaurants | #22: Safety
You’ll hear locals say this time and again: yes, it’s hot in Phoenix, but it’s a dry heat! What that means is that you can step out of your hotel in the morning wearing your Sunday best and hardly break a sweat while you explore the city’s best breweries, street art and coffee shops. Start your visit on Roosevelt Row, home to some of the best street art in the state, then pop in at Four Peaks Brewery for a free tour and to sample new flavors on tap. Reserve a spot in Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation’s Night Lights tour, which offers an evening peek inside Taliesin as it glows warmly like a jewel under Arizona’s starry skies. On the first Friday of every month, a huge street party complete with food trucks, live music, art galleries and exhibitions takes place in downtown Phoenix—a must-do for locals and visitors alike. If breaking a sweat is what you’re after, you could do a lot worse than hiking to the top of Camelback Mountain. The best time to go in summer is at the crack of dawn, before temperatures reach the three digit mark.
#4: Restaurants | #7: Connectivity, Culture | #9: Pro Sports Teams | #10: Attractions | #13: Museums | #14: Nightlife | #17: Weather | #19: Neighborhoods, Shopping | #22: Parks & Outdoors | #33: Safety
Houston’s 10,000-plus restaurants make it “the next global food Mecca,” according to chef, innovator and Ugly Delicious host David Chang. Where to start? Houstonia Magazine recommends Killen’s STQ, its restaurant of the year, along with barbecue at the Pit Room and dessert at the Oaxacan-inspired Xochi. Perhaps not in that order, or all on the same day. When not eating your way around the city, you can soak in the culture and attractions. In the Houston Museum District, galleries galore are cheek by jowl with a performing arts theater, ballet, the symphony and more.
#9 Washington D.C.
#4: Pro Sports Teams, Museums | #5: Neighborhoods | #8: Connectivity | #11: Culture | #17: Restaurants | #18: Parks & Outdoors, Nightlife | #20: Shopping | #28: Attractions | #29: Weather | #32: Safety
The nations’ capital landed at #5 overall in our America’s Best Cities report. It also scores well in our Product category, including #4 in the country for its free museums—from the two Smithsonians (Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum) to the sprawling National Gallery of Art. Not one to rest on its laurels, D.C. is stepping up its museum game, with plenty of new cultural heavyweights just opened, including the stunning Museum of the Bible—the largest museum dedicated to the best-seller. Modern technology presents the ancient teachings, a result of years of collaboration between scholars, techies and designers, including an immersive 17-projector theater that brings the stories to life. D.C. is also a rising star as an American food city, and it even has a happening nightlife. Take for example, the Wharf, which is home to more than 20 restaurants as well as the Anthem, a massive music venue that hosts homegrown and international acts. Acts passing through town this summer include Elvis Costello and Blondie, Tame Impala, The Raconteurs, Jenny Lewis and many others. Meanwhile, the Washington Nationals play their home games at Nationals Park, which boasts terrific views, friendly fans and plenty of great places to eat, including Hank’s Oyster Bars, Ben’s Chili Bowl and Medium Rare, where delicious steak sandwiches are on the menu.