20 Underrated Destinations to Visit This Summer—From Mendocino to Mackinac Island

If you’re like me, your summer vacation planning starts during the peak winter dreariness. The holidays have passed and all the coziness has run its course. Suddenly, you can’t get the idea of a sun-soaked getaway out of your head. Luckily, there are still plenty of underrated summer destinations in the U.S. to explore. (And avoid the inevitable crowds that gather in the country’s hot spots.)

When a place earns hotspot status, prices skyrocket and every hotel or rental immediately books up. To save you the headache and ensure a smooth trip, I rounded up the best and most underrated summer destinations. No matter what kind of vacation you crave.

20 Underrated Summer Destinations for Your Next Dream Vacay

I pooled our editors, consulted reputable travel publications, and reflected on all of the most underrated summer destinations I’ve personally visited—and loved—myself. Ahead, you’ll find spots that span every type of vacation. From a quiet camping trip to an overlooked city-based stay, discover the most underrated destinations that deserve the hype.

Charlottesville, Virginia

College towns are underrated destinations in and of themselves. But when a city combines an academic atmosphere with history, access to nature, and incredible food and wine, it’s a must-visit. Case in point, Charlottesville, Virginia. Though you can fly into its small airport, the city is just over a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C.’s Dulles Airport. Once there, plan to make time for a tour of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Set aside a day for visits to any of the area’s incredible vineyards (Pippin Hill is a must for the countryside views and King Family Vineyards’ brut rosé rivals that of any French-produced wine—they also host polo matches every Sunday at noon, from Memorial Day weekend through October.) And of course, make reservations at the famed Marigold by Chef Jean-Georges. The restaurant’s seasonable, sustainable menu is unparalleled.

Where to stay: The Clifton offers historic charm in a lush and verdant setting, or book a night at Keswick Hall for the ultimate luxury resort experience.

Orcas Island, Washington

I’ve always said: the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state is my favorite place in the world. While stunning as a collective archipelago, each of the islands boasts its own unique character and beauty. Orcas Island is home to Moran State Park’s old-growth forest and Mt. Constitution, the second-highest mountain on an ocean island in the contiguous 48 states. As such, the views from the summit’s observation tower are without compare. You get a full, panoramic vista of the surrounding islands, the Cascade Mountains, the Olympic Mountains, and many Canadian and American cities.

Alongside hiking, expect plenty of opportunities to bike, horseback ride, visit farms, and explore the island’s rich artistic culture.

Where to stay: Check out Rosario Village for a serene, scenic retreat and incredible views of the surrounding Cascade Bay. The Outlook Inn offers contemporary lodging with waterfront appeal (Think: if Nancy Meyers made a movie about Orcas Island, plenty of scenes would take place right here.)

Mendocino, California

I just visited Mendocino for the first time a few months ago and was blown away by the northern California coast’s wild, unfettered beauty. A short drive northwest of the Napa Valley region, you’ll find Mendocino County boasting an impressive stretch of coastline, expansive redwood forests, and a slew of 40 or so wineries that rival (and in many ways, surpass) the state’s other well-known wine regions.

Expect out-of-season temps that are nonetheless refreshing (65 degrees is not uncommon in the summertime). However, the sun always manages to peak through, giving you a different but still revelatory experience compared to SoCal. The Mendocino National Forest offers plenty of options for a day hike while Glass Beach—named for its abundant sea glass shores—is a must-visit.

Where to stay: The Inn at Newport Ranch in nearby Fort Bragg defines rustic elegance. Its dining program is both intimate and cosmopolitan, drawing upon European influence in its execution while featuring foraged ingredients from around the property. Book a night at Nicholson House for a charming, boutique stay. (And don’t miss the hotel’s adjoining restaurant, Café Beaujolais, which food critic Ruth Reichl once called the best breakfast in California.)

Rangeley Lakes, Maine

Growing up in northern New Hampshire, our summer vacations were always spent camping at one of the various Rangeley Lakes in Maine. While beautiful, of all the underrated summer destinations, this might be the most remote. But if you’re craving time spent in nature—hiking, swimming, fishing, and paddling out on the water—nothing beats this rural area of northern Maine. Bald Mountain in neighboring Oquossoc is a relatively easy day hike, with great views of the area from the summit’s lookout tower. Coos Canyon is 30 miles from the area, and offers excellent swimming and cliff jumping if you’re brave enough. But there’s also no shame in spending your entire trip on one of the region’s picturesque lakes. Take it from a girl who did exactly that for 20 years of her life: this is a simple, but spectacular getaway.

Where to stay: Bald Mountain Camps Resort is an ideal spot for a family vacation, with stunning views of Mooselookmeguntic Lake from each of the resort’s rustic cabins. Plan to rent a boat and spend the day on the lake or go for a personalized paddle board or kayak tour. And don’t miss the dining—it offers all the best Maine has to offer.

For a true log cabin stay, Highland Heath House is your pick. Each of the bed and breakfast’s charming rooms offers plenty of attention to detail and a cozy breakfast to enjoy by a roaring fire.

Rosemary Beach, Florida

Florida may be an obvious pick for a summer vacation, but despite its beauty and the city’s pristine planning and architecture, Rosemary Beach remains relatively under the radar. Situated on the Gulf Coast, there are plenty of activities you can indulge in during your stay. Rent a bike and tour around the luxuriously elegant neighborhoods (seriously, you’ll might spend half your stay glued to Zillow). It’s also the perfect place for tennis enthusiasts and those aspiring to emulate Zendaya in her Challengers-era alike. The beaches are beyond pristine and there’s no shortage of opportunities for al fresco dining. Edward’s a must for a fine dining experience and the Havana Beach Bar & Grill is swanky without being stuff. Plus: a rooftop bar with ocean views. Need I say more?

Rosemary Beach was named one of “America’s Most Romantic Small Towns” by CNN. Spend just a day there, and you’ll quickly understand why.

Where to stay: The Pearl offers not only luxurious design, but the staff considers every detail to ensure a memorable stay. Expect to be greeted upon arrival with a complimentary cocktail and to receive a freshly baked treat at bedtime. Kaiya is an airy, enriching stay that guarantees a summer getaway entirely unlike any you’ve ever experienced.

Washington, D.C.

If you haven’t visited the nation’s capitol since your eighth-grade field trip, it’s time to book your return. Beyond the city’s rich history and ample opportunities for (free!) museum visits, there are endless cultural outlets and a dynamic art scene to tap into. The New York Times recently ranked D.C.’s best restaurants, proving that the food scene here is indeed “vibrant.”

Where to stay: Check out The Dupont Circle Hotel, a recently revamped property in the heart of one of the city’s bustling neighborhoods. Just north in Adams Morgan is the trendy LINE DC, featuring a rooftop with amazing views of the Washington Monument and Capitol.

Astoria, Oregon 

As someone who lived in Portland for five years, it surprisingly took me until the end of my tenure to visit Astoria. In true Pacific Northwest fashion, the town is surrounded by rivers and forests and is situated just inland of the Pacific Ocean. Described as a “port city with Scandinavian flavor,” by Travel Oregon, Astoria offers no shortage of museums, breweries, and picturesque Victorian-era homes. The recently renovated Columbia River Maritime Museum is guaranteed family fun, and a tour of Fort Clatsop (an encampment of the Lewis and Clark Expedition) will satisfy any history buff. Set aside a day to drive down the Oregon coast through Seaside, Cannon Beach (site of Haystack Rock), and finishing up in Tillamook for a visit to the creamery.

Where to stay: For private balcony views overlooking the Columbia River, the Bowline Hotel offers a historic, singular experience. And given the town’s size, it’s easy to access just about anywhere in Astoria, but there’s no better location than the iconic Cannery Pier Hotel & Spa.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

An hour north of Boston is Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a port city composed of scenic 17th- and 18th-century houses. The charming colonial-coastal architecture makes just a stroll down the main street an activity in itself, but there’s plenty to pack into a long weekend trip. Be sure to stop by the Strawbery Banke Museum and tour around the neighborhood’s historic homes. The Seacoast African American Cultural Center features concerts, educational programs, exhibits, and collections of African artifacts.

As for dining, waterfront bistro Black Trumpet features locally sourced produce and meat with a James Beard Award semi-finalist chef at the helm. Don’t miss sampling the local seafood fare at Surf Portsmouth—with adjoining Surf Sushi Bar next door to continue your fresh fish marathon.

Where to stay: The Inn Downtown is housed in a newly renovated historic 1809 home, with 10 modern studio apartments for true, live-like-a-local vibes. For a luxe vacation unlike any other, Wentworth By the Sea is a quick drive from downtown in neighboring New Castle. Perfect for a relaxing, romantic stay.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Home to three ski areas, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Snow King Mountain Resort, and Grand Targhee Resort, the resort town is a wintertime retreat. But in the summer, it transforms into a dream summer vacation. Take scenic hikes through wildflower-strewn trails, ride the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s aerial tram, and dine at any one of the area’s impressive culinary offerings. Persephone Bakery is a charming coffee shop and lunch spot, complete with deliciously aesthetic baked treats. Hit up Roadhouse Brewing Co. for a beer and burger pairing. Or, visit the newly re-opened Westbank Grill at Four Seasons Jackson Hole for the area’s finest dining. You’ll be rightly tempted to go all out, ordering the ossetra caviar and the restaurant’s signature beef tenderloin.

Where to stay: Sure, you could cosplay as the Kardashians and stay at the celeb-studded Caldera House. Or you could opt for the beautifully appointed Cloudveil, which pairs unparalleled extravagance with a billing of “rough-hewn sophistication.” Hotel Jackson rivals Cloudveil’s location and luxury while boasting the Sacajawea Library—an exploration into the literature and art celebrating the American West. Alongside stunning rooms and the hotel’s Mediterranean-inspired FIGS restaurant, the library will make your stay.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and the redwoods may get all the attention, but for geothermal features, volcanoes, and falls, Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California is your move. Plus, it doesn’t attract nearly as many visitors as the state’s other, more popular parks. And while you still should make a reservation at one of the park’s seven campgrounds in advance, you’ll feel entirely transported to another world during your stay. (As opposed to going from a city to a natural wonderland with just as many people.)

Despite the Dixie Fire burning many acres across the park back in 2021, there’s still plenty of beauty to see particularly west of the park highway. Though popular, Bumpass Hell, the park’s largest hydrothermal area, is worth a visit. It’s an easy, three-mile round-trip trail accessible to even small children. As with any national park visit, consult trail reports in advance to ensure they’re open during your trip.

Where to stay: The actual park is best experienced spent camping—for that, consult the available Lassen Volcanic Campgrounds. If it’s a glamping-esque experience you crave, the nearby Highlands Ranch Resort offers seven cottages with breathtaking views of the mountains and meadows. (Not to mention a fine-dining restaurant and bar for when you’re tired of cooking over the fire.)

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island isn’t just a historic trip—it’ll take you back in time with its car-free roads, horse-drawn carriages, and bikers aplenty. Come for the stunning sunrises and sunsets, and stay for the shopping, dining, and impressive nightlife for a city of 583. Of course, you’ll also need to sample the “world-famous” Mackinac Island fudge during your stay. It’s the perfect trip if you’re craving a mild summer climate. Hike up to Fort Holmes, the island’s highest point, which American forces regained from the British at the end of the War of 1812. You can also explore the island by kayak, sailboat, or a sunset cruise. And of course, there’s no shortage of fishing to enjoy.

Where to stay: Book a night at the Grand Hotel, a National Historic landmark. Each room offers one-of-a-kind decor for a memorable stay. The Metiver Inn is situated in a Victorian-era mansion, decorated in a blend of English and French country styles and surrounded by the island’s most stunning gardens.

Port Townsend, Washington

Fun fact: town planners initially expected Port Townsend to be a busy, bustling port thanks to where it sat on the Puget Sound. But the introduction of the railroad instead made Seattle the state’s commerce hub. Now, rather than being an overcrowded city, Port Townsend is all charm, with its Victorian homes and structures leftover from the 19th century. As such, it makes for a perfect weekend getaway, with nearby beaches and nature parks just a stone’s throw from the downtown. You’ll find plenty of opportunities to shop for antiques at the Port Townsend Antique Mall, and Better Living Through Coffee is the city’s undisputed best cup of coffee. (Take the long lines out the door as proof.)

Where to stay: The Palace Hotel sits right in the heart of the historic downtown, close to many restaurants, shops, parks, and beaches to explore. Ravenscroft Inn is all bed and breakfast charm, and is a short walk from the Saturday farmers’ market that you can’t book a trip without visiting.

Kansas City, Missouri

I will go to my grave forever defending Kansas City as one of the best and most underrated summer destinations. (And that’s even before Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s all-American romance put it on the map.) Kansas City–style barbecue offers slowly smoked meat with a thick, sweet sauce you’ll unabashedly lick off your fingers. Stop by Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque and Jones Bar-B-Q (yes, the one on Queer Eye) for the city’s finest. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is perhaps one of the country’s best, with an extensive collection of Asian art and pieces from practically every continent and culture.

Where to stay: The Inn at Meadowbrook is situated a 25-minute drive south of downtown, purposefully tucked away from the crowds and hustle. Surrounded by lakes, trails, and trees, it’s perfect for those wanting access to the city without the noise. The Aida KC features design-driven touches and sumptuous lodging—ideal for an Instagram-friendly stay.

Manchester, Vermont

Disclaimer: This is my mom’s town, and I’ve spent several years happily visiting any chance I can get. Picturesque any time of year, it’s particularly stunning in the summertime, when the green mountains are at their most vibrant. The Vermont Country Store, in nearby Weston, is a blast from the past, with Americana wares, candies, and a wall of Vermont maple syrup. Visit Mildred’s Dairy Bar next door for a maple creemee (look it up and thank me later). The Southern Vermont Arts Center features an impressive collection of work from local, national, and international artists. And of course, hiking is a must. Mount Equinox will take you about five hours up and down. Or, if you want the panoramic views minus the sweat, take the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive.

Where to stay: The Weston is situated perfectly for a full experience of Vermont’s idyllic countryside, with antiques, art, and Italian-crafted linen. For a downtown stay, the Kimpton Taconic Hotel is quintessential Vermont with a contemporary spin. Tucked into the base of the mountains, the hotel pairs luxury with access to all things Vermont.

Chattanooga, Tennessee

While all of your friends are in Nashville for their third bachelorette party this year, you can find a little quiet and outdoor adventure two hours away in Chattanooga. Situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, you’ll find no shortage of outdoor activities to enjoy. Named a “Best Mountain Town” by Outside Magazine, you can discover top spots for rock climbing, road and mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, white-water rafting, and more. The best part? It’s all accessible just a short drive from the city’s downtown.

For when you need a break, the Tennessee Aquarium has everything on display from sand tiger sharks to penguins to the Giant Pacific octopus. Alternatively, explore the Hunter Museum of American Art for a collection that includes works of American Impressionism and natural landscapes of the Hudson River School, an American art movement drawing influence from Romanticism.

Where to stay: Outdoor enthusiasts and those simply looking to visit Chattanooga as a little getaway will love the Kinley Chattanooga Southside whose stylish and comfortable accommodations fit every type of traveler. If it’s history and local charm you crave, the dramatic, art-deco design of The Read House is a must-book.

Block Island, Rhode Island

Sure, you could battle the crowds in either Nantucket or Martha’s Vineyard. Or… you could head to Block Island. With dramatic cliffs, rocky beaches, and lighthouses, it’s New England epitomized. Head to the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge to see everything from herons to sandpipers to the (cutest) Northern saw-whet owl. Bike out to the northern tip to visit the North Lighthouse which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. Of course, beach options abound—Baby Beach, Scotch Beach, and Mansion Beach are all must-sees.

Dead Eye Dicks is your spot for Lobster BLTs and all the oysters you could ever want to throw back. Indulge in a sunset dinner at Restaurant 1879 at The Atlantic Inn, where the move is the rabbit leg confit, lobster roll, or burger.

Where to stay: Block Island Beach House is the only spot on the island for beachfront hotel rooms. (Some even have their own private balconies.) For an iconic Block Island experience, book the Spring House Hotel. The expansive property and luxe lodgings is widely considered one of the island’s most elegant historic landmarks.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

An hour and a half north of Chicago, Milwaukee is quickly shoring up attention from young visitors and families looking for a weekend away. Milwaukee’s many breweries contribute to the city’s stance as a major player in the American beer industry. (See here for a full list of brewery tours.) Museums abound, with the Harley-Davidson Museum showing off the brand’s iconic bikes and the Milwaukee Public Museum chronicling natural and human history. The Milwaukee Art Museum boasts a collection of over 30,000 works and regularly hosts internationally regarded exhibitions. The contemporary art collection is not to be missed, featuring pieces from Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, Gerhard Richter, and more renowned artists. Of course, it’s also a city of sports. Catch a Brewers game and indulge in the quintessential American pastime.

Where to stay: For a design-forward stay situated in the city’s downtown, book a night at Saint Kate Arts Hotel. Just across the river is the luxurious Trade Hotel, which pairs modern comfort with nods to the city’s rich history.

Stowe, Vermont

While popular in the wintertime for skiing, Stowe often goes overlooked in the summertime months. But to escape the unrelenting heat, this northern Vermont town (just under an hour’s drive from Burlington) is the ultimate summer escape. A hike up Mount Mansfield, the state’s tallest peak, features a variety of trails for hikers of all experience levels. The Current Center for Contemporary Art offers a range of dynamic programming perfect for a family-friendly afternoon. Beyond that, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, and even zip-lining comprise the town’s diverse offerings. (Consult the town’s website for an exhaustive itinerary.)

Stop by The Bench for wood-fired pizza and local brews and Butler’s Pantry for a comfort-forward, Vermont breakfast—complete with pancakes topped with the state’s famed maple syrup, of course.

Where to stay: For visitors after a well-situated, charming stay, Green Mountain Inn in the center of downtown is your best pick. Or, if you’re looking to spend the weekend like a local, rent out The Farm Home for a personalized, historic boutique stay. (Be sure to also stop by the sister business, Farm Home Co. in downtown for a beautifully curated shopping experience. I even spotted the Casa Zuma Healdsburg Wicker Side Table during my last visit.)

Deer Isle, Maine

Maine has long been lauded by visitors all over the world for its coastal, New England appeal. But if you’re looking to beat the crowds that flock to Bar Harbor, Kennebunkport, or Portland, Deer Isle is a must. Just an hour’s drive south of Bangor, the small island hosts both the towns of Deer Isle and Stonington. There are plenty of art galleries to visit (The Turtle Gallery, Shari Ciomei Art Gallery, and The Art of Evelyn Kok Gallery) as well as the Opera House Arts theater venue. The Pumpkin Island Lighthouse can be accessed by the Deer Isle Bridge for the best sunset—and fog—viewing.

If you’re visiting Deer Isle, you’ll likely add a visit to Acadia National Park to your itinerary. While the park has garnered lots of attention from tourists over the years, from Stonington by ferry, you can access a remote area of the park called Isle Au Haut. Hike around the rocky shorelines or bring your mountain bike and pedal through the woods, bogs, and meadows.

Where to stay: Rustic and charm are the name of the game when you visit Deer Isle. Pilgrim’s Inn offers three cottages ideal for an extended stay, or spend the weekend in one of the guest rooms inside the inn’s main building, constructed in 1793. Inn on the Harbor in Stonington is a true waterfront retreat, with stunning views of the Penobscot Bay.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Home to Pueblo-style architecture and a vibrant creative arts community, Santa Fe is unlike any summer destination you’d otherwise consider. The historic district features charmingly crooked streets, adobe landmarks, and a bustling dining scene. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is a testament to the artist’s love of the state’s natural landscape, and The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in downtown is an architectural wonder.

For dining, Geronimo pairs culinary creative endeavors with expert execution (and its setting in a traditional adobe home provides an experience in itself). New Mexican food at its finest can be found at The Shed, a casual eatery featuring enchiladas and the best margarita you’ll ever sip.

Where to stay: Check out El Rey Court, a modern boutique property with thoughtful, design-driven touches courtesy of Wonder Valley founders, Alison and Jay Carroll. Las Palomas is a nod to the art and architecture woven throughout the city’s culture. Expect a true creative retreat.

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