Summer is upon us, and though I’ve spent my first few weeks at home in sunny, Washington, DC, my suitcase is crying from neglect.
“Now is the time to travel!” says just about everyone to me. School’s out, the warm weather wants us to celebrate, and the mountains and seaside are calling.
Of the Four Seasons of Travel, summer is the most obvious. When I was a young child, summertime was the only season to travel—and it was the season to watch parades, to jump into cold lakes, to run barefoot in the forest, and scale sun-warmed boulders.
My list of favorite summertime places represents a clear northern hemisphere bias—right now, Cape Town is cold, India’s in monsoon, and it’s snowing in parts of Tasmania. But the following are also the places I love most—places I have traveled to in summers past and places that I long for every time the air turns warmer and the days become longer.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
No beach will ever compare to my first, with its long band of white sand and rough, navy blue surf. I am forever nostalgic for the clapboard beach houses, the gaudy boardwalk that smells of saltwater taffy and steamed crabs, and even the dead horseshoe crabs and bulbous jellyfish that litter the sand. I really do love Rehoboth and still try to go and get pummeled by the waves at least once ever summer.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
One of my fondest summer memories was getting stuck in a monumental hailstorm in the beautiful Badlands of South Dakota. The sun-bleached mountains look like shark teeth and in a matter of minutes, the skies switch from blazing blue to ominous storm fronts. This is one of the wildest corners in America and I love its moody and unpredictable nature.
Saguenay National Park, Québec, Canada
It’s no secret that I adore Québec, especially the wild woodlands around the Saguenay Fjord. I have fond summertime memories of hiking these steep hills and watching baby beluga whales (they’re pink!) spouting in the fjord. Phenomenal kayaking, outstanding wildlife, fun French culture and the glorious local cuisine make this my no-fail vacation spot.
Seneca Creek, West Virginia
When I want to go camping, I escape to wild and wonderful West Virginia. Just a short drive from Washington, DC, the Spruce Knob National Recreation Area is a personal favorite. My friends and I love to come here for a long weekend, backpack in, cook over a fire and swim in the natural rock pools and waterfalls. (If you’re lucky, you’ll see black bears.)
I cannot count all the ways that I love Bermuda. Just a two-hour flight from America’s east coast, this Atlantic isle is a summertime paradise of empty pink beaches, coral-stone houses, and everywhere you look, the warm turquoise ocean. I love the history, the lighthouses, and the very real British flair of this island in the sun.
Moorea, French Polynesia
The island that is not Tahiti is an easy 30-minute ferry ride from Papeete but a whole world away from the bustle of that city. Moorea is perfectly pleasant—warm, soft, and tropical—with coconut groves, secluded beaches, green volcanic peaks, and a committed Polynesian culture. June to September represents the Polynesian “winter”, which means 80° F temperatures, no rain . . . and no shoes! Moorea might be my favorite island for doing absolutely nothing.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan
Far up on the pinky finger of Michigan’s hand, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore has a natural purity that is rare to find. Though the crystalline waters of Lake Michigan are frigid, the lake is alive with giant salmon, and the surrounding pine forests are summer epitomized. My family used to vacation here and I have very fond memories of cartwheeling down the massive dunes and nighttime campfires on the lake shore.
Out in the midst of the tempestuous North Sea, the wave-worn Faroes are for me, a kind of grey and sullen poem of a place. Yes, there is fog, and wind, and rain, but the sun shines, too, and in summer, these mossy green islands shine like emeralds. I love the noisy birds, the odd Nordic islanders, the quirky music scene, and the wistful feeling of such an isolated spot on the map. (My favorite island? Suðuroy)
Val-André, Brittany, France
As a self-confessed shameless and sycophantic Francophile, I can’t leave out my beloved France, and what better place to embrace summer than Brittany’s northern coastline? An hour west from the better known port of St. Malo, Val-André is a grey-stone Breton town at the edge of a massive half-moon bay that simply glows in summer. The beach is fine, but it’s the sailing and seafood that draws visitors (like me).
Feodosiya, Crimea, Ukraine
The Black Sea coast has long been the haunt of Russian nobility, and the seaside town of Feodosiya is a personal favorite. Wedged between the steep Crimean mountains and the rocky seacoast, the historic town still harbors an air of old Russia. My favorite spots? The pristine beach at Koktebel, the old Genoese castle of Caffa, and the impressive Aivazovsky Art Gallery.
Furano, Hokkaido, Japan
Come summer, Japan’s northern isle explodes into fabulous colors when the fields of roses and tulips really come to life. In July, the hills around Furano turn into bright stripes of purple as the lavender blooms, and the air smells incredible. It’s quite easy to drive yourself around the island, but plan on stopping lots for photos, to bathe in the hot springs, and to eat ramen in Sapporo.
Snowdonia National Park, Wales
Today’s weather report for Snowdonia reads, “Sunny spells leading to a low risk of sunburn.” Exactly. You won’t get sunburned in Wales, even in summertime, but you will have beautiful light, refreshing temperatures and unbeatable scenery. The high mountains of northern Wales are as romantic as their Welsh names. I can’t think of a better summer break than renting a cottage in Snowdonia and balancing daily mountain walks with evening visits to hidden village pubs.
Ruaha National Park, Tanzania
Yes, I was just here last December, but July is a much better time to visit. Just below the equator, Ruaha’s temperatures hover around the lower 80’s in July, when the rains have stopped, the grass is drying up, and the wildlife is abundant. Meanwhile, the Serengeti is in peak season and a mob scene not worth fighting.
My first to Copenhagen was in August about ten years ago, when I rented a bike and sped through the cobbled streets. I fell in love with Denmark’s capital in a heartbeat, not only for the canals and exquisite architecture, but really for the city’s many beaches, all of which are clean and swimmable. Come summer, the capital of Nordic cool plays hard into the long hours of sunlit-night. If you’re looking for an unconventional urban getaway, this is it.
Lake Rosseau, Ontario, Canada
Muskoka represents a lovely Canadian summertime ritual, and while Lake Muskoka may have all the big, fancy lake houses, it’s the placid blue water of Lake Rosseau that I love most. I remember counting Saturn’s rings through a telescope, eating crumbly homemade butter tarts from the local general store, and shrieking every time my bare torso hit the lake. Add a wooden speedboat and it’s a summer that I will never forget.
Saving the best for last, Slovenia in the summer simply makes me sigh–ahhhh! For me, Slovenia’s strange Mediterranean/Alpine mix is like no other place in Europe, and though quite small on the map, on the ground, Slovenia is a vast and rippled landscape of high mountain villages and spectacular forests. My favorite spa town is Zreče, where after a day of thermal soaking, I felt totally renewed. And isn’t that what summer’s all about? Renewal, rebirth, and relaxation?
And so, friends, there is my list. Now, please add some of your favorite places in the comments! I love hearing about the destinations that you love most and why. Like I always say, travel is personal and infinite, so don’t take my word for it–go, travel, and find out for yourself (Happy Summer!)