East Coast, West Coast, down South – one thing’s certain across the great USofA: We know how to summer. From inventive state fair dishes and retro glamping retreats, to seafood fests and epic road trips that tour our nation’s kitschiest treasures, here's how to make the most of the sunny season (like it’s your patriotic duty).
, Siobhan Reid and Chelsea Stuart
Best Americana Stays
This summer, take 4th of July festivities to the next level with a patriotic getaway. Sag Harbor’s 1847 landmark American Hotel has played host to some of the country's great homegrown literary talents like Willie Morris, Truman Capote and Wilfrid Sheed. Cozy up in the front porch and sip a glass of rosé while taking in the action on bustling Main Street. Less historic but equally as stylish is The Cottages at Cabot Cove, a impeccably-manicured property made up over sixteen quaint abodes in Kennebunkport, Maine. Guestrooms feel like a J.Crew ad come to life thanks to bright colors, nautical-themed knickknacks and clean-lined furnishings. All-American activities include croquet games on the hotel's great lawn and kayak tours of the nearby bay. Further down the coastline, Nantucket's 76 Main instantly enchants with its interiors that blend WASP-chic and posh. If you book the Vineyard Vines Suite, you're in for a whole lotta preppy.
Best Beer Gardens
Let’s get one thing straight: Americans love their beer (just ask Budweiser), and in the summer, beer gardens are hopping. Take Astoria’s Bohemian Hall, where New Yorkers pack the picnic tables in the massive backyard for live music, Czech beer and a Slavic menu of sauerkraut, schnitzel and potato pierogies. In LA, the Bavarian Wurstküche bar is popular for beers and brats by the beach (Venice Beach, that is). Choose from 24 imported brews on tap – try a potent pint of La Trappe, a Dutch variety made by Trappist monks – as well as exotic menu items like rattlesnake or crocodile sausage with Belgian fries. For one of the most robust selections of ales and IPAs, Sheffield's in Chicago has more than 130 craft brews.
Despite the fact that Americans are widely perceived as rough and rowdy, we do have our fair share of delicate countrymen – or those more predisposed to glamping than camping, so to say. For a retreat that semi-embraces the grit of the great outdoors (if you could even go that far), take to Homestead Modern No. 1, where tricked-out vintage trailers and fully-furnished casitas dot the sands of the Mojave Desert's Hollywood-built Pioneertown. If your inclinations lean more towards yurts (certainly those people exist, right?) the Resort at Paws Up, in Greenough, Montana is your go-to. Their 'American Safari' experience includes basic* accommodations like chandeliers, copper soaking tubs, and his-and-her vanities. If a beachy vibe is what you're after, The Holidays camp community on San Clemente's state beach is where you'll find it. Sit back in a sleek 60's-style camper – decked out with nostalgia-inducing mod touches – and unwind as gentle sea breezes collide with surrounding coastal cliffs.
Best Road Trips
There’s no better time than summer to hit the open road. And while we’re all for pulling out a map and blindly putting your finger on a spot, there are a few epic journeys that stand out from the rest. Route 66, or the Mother Road, is indisputably the great American road trip, and has roadside attractions (think: drive-ins, retro diners and small town mom-and-pop-style storefronts) that are worth the two-week journey alone. If panoramic coastal views and a cliff-hugging highway are more your speed, nothing offers more wind-in-your-hair exhilaration than cruising down California's Pacific Coast Highway – a 123-mile span that begins in historic Monterey, winds through Carmel and Big Sur and ends in Morro Bay. Don't miss the iconic Bixby Bridge, Pebble Beach's Lone Cypress (the most photographed tree in North America) and the landmark Hearst Castle. On the other side of the country, The Blue Ridge Parkway lacks ocean views, but it is regarded as "America's favorite drive." The highway's glorious, ribbon-like road connects the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Pack your camping boots, because the trails are not to be missed!
RELATED: 9 Ultimate Weekend Road Trips
Best Drive-In Theaters
Call us old-fashioned, but we love a retro drive-in. And while many aren’t around anymore, there are still a few gems to be found. Fort Worth’s Coyote Drive-In is known for its live country bands, microbrews and southern eats (Frito pie, anyone?), while Connecticut's Mansfield Drive-In is a vintage flea market by day and cinema by night. For the ultimate throwback, head to Stars and Stripes in Lubbock, Texas, where a 1950s-style soda parlor makes homemade milkshakes to go (take that, burnt popcorn!).
Best Patriotic Drinks
Ask anyone to name a few favorite American pastimes and drinking will probably top their list (think about it...not even prohibition could stop us). Summer-y Mint Julep varieties like pineapple and cranberry hit the outdoor deck at Phoenix newcomer, Okra; unique champagne cocktails are in great demand at Greenwich Village's Margaux (at the Marlton Hotel); and with a healthy dose of bourbon (as American as a cocktail can get), we head to Barrelhouse Flat in Chicago for the best Old-Fashioned.
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Best State Fairs
Deep-fried oreos, s’mores and pickles are just some of the plats du jour served up at our country’s finest state fairs, but there's certainly more to these events than inventive (read: artery clogging) dishes. At the Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts – New England's premiere state fair (that runs for 17-days straight) – horse shows, 4-H youth livestock shows and signature cream puffs attract millions. In Louisville, the Kentucky State Fair does things a little differently (though they do have a prestigious horse show themselves), with more of an emphasis on mainstage performers like Reba, Chris Young and Brett Eldredge, competitions for homebrewers, and acrobatic acts held in the Expo Center. This year, the Minnesota State Fair grandstand entices younger visitors with headliners Weezer, the Dixie Chicks, Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas, but fear not – they're also packing loads of traditional agricultural exhibits and plenty of (insert literally any food item) on a stick.
Best Water Parks
You don’t have to be water wing-wearing age to feel the thrill of barreling down a waterslide on a hot summer day. So the next time the temperatures soar, resist the temptation to dust off the ‘ol inflatable backyard pool, and corral the crew and opt for some serious water park-grade aqua-tainment instead. Virginia’s Water Country USA has more than 40 water slides with resort style amenities including poolside eats and a candy shop, plus the nation's only slide offering both funnel and wave features. Meanwhile, in Santa Claus, Indiana, daredevils endure long lines for the chance to ride down the Wildebeest, the longest waterslide in the world. But if you're not one for roller-coaster-like-thrills, don't worry, there's something for you too. At Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park in Orlando, sun-worshippers can work on their tan on the palm-tree lined beaches, or float down the park's legendary 'lazy river.'
Best Ice Cream Cones
Nothing tastes more like summer than ice cream. And while you can’t go wrong with old-school favorites, you really don’t want to miss the brilliant flavors on tap this summer. Moomer’s serve up 160 varieties of homemade ice cream on a family-run dairy pasture in Traverse City. Dig your spoon into the Cinnamon Pumpkin Crisp and after, hop on a wagon ride tour around the expansive farm. Prefer for your scoops to be spiked? The Comfy Cow – a 6,500-square-foot ice cream palace in Louisville, KY – churns out the crowd-pleasing Bourbon Ball, which is laced with Old Forester. If you're looking for a happy medium between old and new-school flavors, The Juice Bar in Nantucket puts a killer spin on basic vanilla with the Crantucket – a creamy, vanilla ice cream with mashed chocolate-covered cranberries in a homemade waffle cone. Drool.
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Best Swimming Holes
Sometimes, summer gets hot in all the wrong ways and finding a place to cool down becomes a priority. Summering in Palm Springs? Treat yourself to a day pass at the hip Ace Hotel and Swim Club for 12-hours of circular loungers, swaying hammocks, and views of the San Jacinto mountain range all for just $25. On the opposite coast, those in NYC should take to the Olympic-size, public Hamilton Fish Park pool (it's kept exceptionally clean – we swear) on the Lower East Side. Down in Austin, the three-acre Barton Springs Pool is a perfect testament to the Texas' claim that they do everything "bigger and better." Tucked away in Ziker Park, the mammoth year-round swimming hole (which maintains a steady temp of 70 degrees) has been drawing swimmers and sunbathers for decades – no surprise given adult passes run at $3 and $8 (for resident and non-resident, respectively).
AC’s four-mile stretch of circa-1870 boardwalk was the very first of its kind. Today, visitors can play rounds of mini-golf, embrace their inner-child with a ride at Steel Pier, or for those in the mood for retail therapy – hit high-end brands like Louis Vuitton and Burberry at the Pier Shops at Caesars. Across the country, men take to Santa Monica's Muscle Beach in a show of American machismo, but when we're there, you'll be more likely to find us on the Pier, taking in ocean views from the Pacific Wheel or polishing off some fried mac and cheese balls (vacation means guilt-free eating in our book!). Coney Island is also in peak form during the summer – a fact that simply hasn't changed since it hit the scene in 1923. Fireworks are shot off on the beach from June to Labor Day, the 100th-annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating competition and the Coney Island Mermaid Parade are held along Surf Ave, and the Coney Art Walls – a free collection of street art murals by celebrated local artists – provide endless selfie backgrounds.
Best Seafood Fests
It’s finally the season of seafood! Kick off the eatathon in the Florida panhandle near Destin, (Fort Walton Beach, to be exact) for the best crawfish boil around. Boats dock at the waterfront Cafe Italia 189, where there's live music, a manmade beach, and a tiki hut with piles of fresh crawdads. Up north, Maine holds a mean annual lobster fest with some of the country's best crustaceans, and Maryland has a crab and beer feast that hauls in more than 30,000 blue crabs.
In the South, BBQ isn’t just a meal — it’s a lifestyle. Sample the region’s best starting at Saw’s BBQ in Homewood, Alabama. The small-town, counter-service dive dishes up juicy pulled pork, collard greens and baked mac and cheese with sweet iced tea to a never-ending line of locals. Meanwhile, Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que – strangely referred to as Oklahoma Joe's by regulars – is housed inside a Kansas gas station (yes, you read that right) and cooks damn good, down-home fare like the Z-Man: slow-smoked beef brisket, provolone cheese, and crispy onion rings on a toasted Kaiser roll. Finish the finger-licking feast at Dallas's Pecan Lodge, where the mesquite barbecue pit smolders 24/7, churning out one-pound slabs of beef ribs that are so tender, they fall off the bone. Hey, go big (in Texas) or go home, right?
Best Lake Towns
Summer on the lake is a tradition for many Americans, and with such great variety across our country’s regions – there’s a retreat for every type of traveler. Lake Winnipesaukee may be hidden away in one of the tiniest states – hey, New Hampshire – but that hasn't stopped it from becoming a sought-out destination for New Englanders and celebs alike (just ask Jimmy Fallon or Drew Barrymore). Boating, fishing, ziplining, shopping, scenic drives, you name it – and NH's Lakes Region has it. Montana may be a landlocked state, but when it comes to freshwater romps, Bigfork pulls out the big guns (see what we did there). Go fly fishing by day (our rec goes to Bigfork Anglers) and catch shows at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse by night. Whether you're looking for a soothing stone massage (where else but The Sagamore Resort) or a relaxing lakeside cherry-infused red wine (bow down to the Adirondack Winery) to compliment your getaway, Lake George is prepped to impress.
RELATED: America's Most Beautiful Lake Towns
Best Baseball Stadium Food
Baseball stadiums are seriously upping the ante on their concessions, so we’ll have to pass on those peanuts and cracker jacks from now on. At the Met’s Citi Field in New York, taste Shake Shack burgers and Brooklyn Brewery beer, or tuck into fresh Dungeness crab sandwiches at AT&T Park during a San Francisco Giant's game. In Baltimore, more specifically Oriole Park at Camden Yard, Boog's Barbeque is a must – order the smoky pit-roasted beef, coleslaw and baked beans, slow-cooked with bacon and brown sugar. It's a home run in our book.