10 destinations that hit their absolute peak in summer

Hawaii, California, Portugal - some places are fabulous to visit all year round. But not everywhere can be so lucky.

Take, for example, the Midwest.

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For much of the year, this cluster of the country gets hit with harsh winters, severe springs and over-too-fast falls. But come summer? The Midwest bursts to life with festivals, lake days and firefly-flecked nights.

Nowhere is this more true than Chicago, where residents pour outside to patios and parks at the first sign of warmth. By June, the beaches along Lake Michigan, which sit steps from skyscrapers, are filled with visitors and locals.

“It’s truly magnetic,” said Helen Nguyen, founder of Preserve Travel, who has lived there for the past three years.

The Midwest is not the only part of America to experience this peak summer phenomenon. Here are 10 places across the country (and Canada) that appreciate the extra sunshine the most.

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Arctic air swirls through Chicago with a vengeance in the winter, and the whipping cold keeps its grip on the city through the spring. Locals are rewarded with a summer so glorious you can feel the energy in the air.

“Everyone’s out,” Nguyen said. “The city feel so alive.”

There are free events and activities all summer long, from fireworks at Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday, to music festivals and museum days.

But for all-time summer vibes, head to the ballpark to eat a Chicago dog and see the Cubs or the White Sox play.

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San Juan Islands, Wash.

A jewel of the Pacific Northwest, the San Juan Islands “are truly something special,” said Mark Williams, co-author of the LGBTQIA+ travel book “Out in the World.”

During the warmer months, the Salish Sea is teeming with Chinook salmon, orcas and kayakers. Three main islands connected by ferry celebrate the artistic community with gallery walks (San Juan and Lopez islands), an arts festival (San Juan Island) and studio tours (Orcas and Lopez islands).

Farmers spotlight their produce, including a pear discovered by an Orcas Island grower, at markets and farm-to-table establishments.

For a wisp of winter without the cold, climb to the top of Mount Constitution on Orcas Island. The islands’ highest point affords views of Vancouver, the mainland and the snow-capped peaks of Mount Baker and Mount Rainier.

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New Buffalo, Mich.

Michigan is rife with Great Lakes beaches: on Mackinac Island and in Saugatuck and Grand Haven, for example. But Nguyen sends clients to another favorite, just 70 miles from downtown Chicago. In New Buffalo, visitors can lounge on the sand overlooking Lake Michigan, go sailing or hike in nearby parks.

The area has reasonably priced vacation rentals - and llama farms - as well as charming bed-and-breakfasts like Goldberry Woods, an inn on an organic farm where guests can stay in luxury suites, cottages or one of two vintage campers.

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Santa Fe, N.M.

While its Southwest neighbors struggle with extreme heat, Santa Fe keeps relatively cool in the summer. Lindsay Messina, co-founder of Fioraé Luxury Travel, says visitors can expect average highs in the 80s.

All summer long, the city teems with art shows, live music, outdoor movies, artisan markets, and beer, food and wine festivals. Once the sun goes down, look up; Santa Fe is a premiere stargazing destination.

The region’s celestial beauty is best appreciated outside the city from one of New Mexico’s “dark sky parks,” certified by the International Dark Sky Association. Or you can hop on Santa Fe’s new StarGazer train. During the two-hour tour, train riders have access to an outdoor open-air flatbed car for an unobstructed view.

In August, the 102nd Santa Fe Indian Market features jewelry, pottery, textiles, paintings, sculptures and other creative works by more than 1,000 artists from at least 200 Native American tribes. Indigenous musicians will also perform on stages in Santa Fe Plaza; models will strut their stuff in a fashion show; and food vendors will sell fry bread, Frito pies and Pueblo stews.

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Milwaukeeans eat frozen custard all year, but during the summer, they don’t need an ice pick to consume the eggy cousin of ice cream. (During the recent filming of “Top Chef,” the judges lapped up Leon’s.)

Custard is best enjoyed by the water. In Milwaukee, visitors can choose among three rivers or Lake Michigan. Bradford Beach, the city’s largest public beach, is a hot spot for volleyball and migratory birds. Since 2020, it has offered free use of beach wheelchairs.

Traveling south, visitors can choose among smaller sunbathing spots such as McKinley Beach before hitting Henry Maier Festival Park. The 75-acre fairground hosts nonstop events, including the annual Summerfest, which takes place over three weekends and features 600 musical acts.

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Boise, Idaho

Even with the extra hours of daylight, you’ll need several days to fully explore the Boise River Greenbelt, the city’s main recreational artery. The 25-mile pathway runs from Lucky Peak State Park, a watersports hub on a dammed lake, to Garden City.

At the northern terminus, you can river surf or stand-up paddle on a man-made wave at Boise Whitewater Park. The paved route overlaps with the Urban Wine Trail, a collection of wineries and meaderies with tasting rooms.

Several stops along the Boise Idaho Potato Trail are also accessible from the greenbelt. The restaurants, breweries and other eateries put an innovative spin on the spud. The state’s primary crop appears on pizza and as an ale, a doughnut and an ice cream creation that looks deceptively like a baked potato.

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Portsmouth, N.H.

Angela Hughes, owner of Trips & Ships Luxury Travel, recommends the centuries-old seaport town for “its unique blend of historical charm, cultural richness and scenic beauty.”

Sightseeing cruises putter around the Piscataqua River, a liquid state line shared with Maine, and the Isles of Shoals, a nine-pack of islands six miles off the coast. For history buffs, the Strawbery Banke Museum is like a Yankee Williamsburg, with costumed “roleplayers” and artisans demonstrating traditional crafts.

The guided tour calendar for the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire fills up during the summer, or if you prefer to walk at your own pace, follow the map to the two dozen downtown sites.

In Prescott Park, theater fans can discover high-caliber productions at the Players’ Ring, but without the sweaty Broadway masses.

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Freezing rain. Unforgiving wind. Sleet. Ice. These are some of the words that describe a Minneapolis winter.

Minnesotans embrace the cold, but ask locals about the summer, and you’ll get descriptors like “heaven,” “priceless” and “magical.”

“There can be an infectious buzz about it,” said Minnesota native and St. Paul resident Kyle Potter, editor in chief of Thrifty Traveler.

Potter points to the city’s many breweries and restaurants designed with summer in mind, with massive patios overlooking the Mississippi River or garage door walls that get rolled up as soon as the temperatures allow. And, of course, there’s the Minnesota State Fair to round out the season with a bang, or at least a bucket of chocolate chip cookies.

For a true taste of Minnesota summer, “get a rental car, drive two-ish hours north and go see Lake Superior,” Potter said, recommending stops in Duluth or Grand Marais to jump into the frigid waters or explore them by canoe.

“But you don’t have to go far at all,” Potter added. “Just within city limits, within half of an afternoon you can knock out three of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.”

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Camden, Maine

After spending the winter months getting buried under snowstorm after snowstorm, Maine transforms into the poster child for the quintessential East Coast summer.

Most visitors flock to Portland for the piping hot food scene or north to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. For less traffic, try Camden on Penobscot Bay along Maine’s MidCoast.

The town has cool restaurants and wine shops, quaint ice cream stands and plenty of places to buy lobster-themed paraphernalia. Stay in one of Camden’s many historic inns or rough it at a campsite in nearby Camden State Park, which is within walking distance of the town.

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Quebec City

The provincial capital of Quebec is often touted as an alternative for Paris. The dupe is especially important this summer, when the City of Light hosts the Olympics (and a horde of additional visitors).

Similar to its European counterpart, the city’s outdoor cafes, gardens and parks flourish in the warmer months. A section of the St. Charles River trail, which runs from Lake Saint-Charles to the Old Port, switches from cross-country skiing to inline skating and cycling.

On the St. Lawrence River, shuttles transport visitors to such attractions as Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a cathedral touted as the oldest pilgrimage site in North America.

For a dip, the Promenade Samuel-De Champlain recently opened a section called Station de la Plage, which features an Olympic-size infinity pool with a sandy beach along the river banks.

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