Bike rides to the beach, days spent swimming in the sun, and cold drinks with good company are just a few of the best things about summer. So, when the warmer weather starts rolling in, you may start itching to travel somewhere you can find all that and more. But what if your city already has everything you need to have fun in the sun? What if you stuck around and made the most of your city’s summer offerings, using the money you could’ve spent on travel on, say, surf lessons or a concert under the stars, without even leaving your ZIP code?
Put down your car keys, log off that travel website, and listen up: We figured out where the best “Summer Cities” in America are, based off proximity to nature and recreational activities, weather, affordability, and more.
For our 2023 Best Summer Cities list, we analyzed 87 of the largest U.S. cities, scoring each city on desirability indicators from access to recreational activities to ease of mobility to number of sunny and rainy days and economic indicators like average salaries and median rent rates. As explained in our methodology, total scores are a weighted average of these metrics, with the highest scores being most desirable.
Below, we've highlighted the top 10 cities on our list. You can find the full-ranked list of all 87 cities we looked at here.
- Salt Lake City, UT
- Boise, ID
- San Francisco, CA
- Seattle, WA
- Reno, NV
- Portland, OR
- Sacramento, CA
- Madison, WI
- Denver, CO
- Minneapolis, MN
If you live in Salt Lake City, you already know that your home has one of the best year-round climates in the U.S. and a summer that’s sunnier than most of the country. That’s just one reason why SLC tops our list of Best Summer Cities (coming in at No. 4 for its weather score) — and why you should stay in town this year. Even if you don’t plan a getaway to one of the “Mighty 5” national parks in Utah (Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands), you’ll still have plenty to do in the state’s capital city, right in your backyard. If free live music is what you’re after, check out the Excellence Concert Series, featuring local Utah performers in the city, or Mondays in the Park, held in Liberty Park all summer. Or grab a picnic blanket and head down to Liberty Park for the free Summer Film Series for SLC’s very own cinema under the stars. As if all this wasn’t enough, the city is currently trying to expand its green spaces to make room for its rapidly growing population. A new pop-up park this year on 200 East between 300 South and 400 South is just the first step — and it’ll feature food trucks, live music, and a beer garden.
2. Boise, ID
The opportunity to see breathtaking vistas like 10-story-tall waterfalls, get close to unique wildlife on hiking trails, or take in the relaxing temperature of natural hot springs — these are just a few of the reasons why someone may want to travel to a new vacation spot in the summer. But if you live in Boise, you can do all this and more within a few hours’ drive from your city, while soaking up the sun without suffering from humidity. Boise, Idaho’s most populous city, is right around the corner from some of the U.S.’s greatest nature travel destinations, where you can hike, kayak, paddleboard, swim, and even surf — river surf, that is, in one of the first man-made adjustable river waves in the world. Remember that Southern Idaho is called Magic Valley. Don’t have a car to get down there? No problem — there’s plenty to do closer to home in Treasure Valley as well. Boise (tied with San Francisco) topped our list for its Urban Accessibility Score, as one of the most bikeable and walkable cities in the nation, thanks in part to the tree-lined, 25-mile bike path called the Boise River Greenbelt. A well-preserved section of the Oregon Trail also runs through Boise, so you don’t have to go far if you want to go on a scenic walk or hike. Finally, experience great theater in the great outdoors without leaving home at the iconic Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
There’s always something exciting to do or somewhere new to go in San Francisco — and you’ll rarely need a car to get there — so why go anywhere else this summer? San Fran ranked No. 1 on our list for its Recreation Score as well as its Urban Accessibility Score — and with so much to do in the city, you can easily avoid tourists, skipping the newest trending spot for one of your city’s many hidden gems. For a lowkey weekend, have a picnic in the Mission’s Dolores Park, where you can look over your fair city, or head to the Saturday Alemany Farmers’ Market, the oldest farmers’ market in California. For a day trip that broadens the scope of your staycation, you can take a ferry to Sausalito for fresh seafood and water views, a shuttle to Muir Woods for a hike among towering redwood trees, or a bus or shuttle to Sonoma County for a glass of wine and a view of rolling vineyards. If the reason you travel is to try foreign fare, then take a minute to remember that you already live in a place with nearly 4,000 places to eat. That’s right — San Francisco has more dining spots per capita than any other major city in the U.S., and diversity is woven into the fabric of the city’s offerings, so food from all over the world is at your fingertips. Live entertainment is another of SF’s abundances, with the free Stern Grove Festival bringing acts like Neko Case and Patti Smith to the city.
4. Seattle, WA
If your image of Seattle includes rainy days sipping coffee inside, you aren’t exactly wrong — but you are thinking of its rainy season, which is from October to March and which contains 75% of the city’s annual rainfall. Summer, however, is Seattle’s dry season, meaning that you can mostly sunny days from June to September. There’s a reason Seattle ranked No. 3 on our list for its Recreation Score — why let tourists have all the fun at this premier summer travel spot? Enjoy the splendor that Seattle has to offer — from plenty of parks (it ranked No. 5 on our list for its Park Score) to walking and hiking trails to fine dining to renowned music festivals like Belltown Bloom and the Capital Hill Block Party. Rent a hot tub boat — yes, you read that right — on Lake Union or go whale watching on the Puget Sound. You can even go scuba diving or snorkeling in nearby Edmonds, at Edmonds Underwater Park. Afterward, grab a bite at one of the thousands of restaurants in the Emerald City, which was ranked the No. 7 Best Foodie City by WalletHub last year.
5. Reno, NV
It’s no secret that Reno gets hot — really hot — and dry in the summer months (don’t expect a lot of rain if you’re sticking around) due to its desert climate. But isn’t a little heat what summer vacation is all about? For its lack of rainy days and overwhelming amount of sun (according to our data, it only rains about 2 days a month in the summer), Reno ranked high on our Weather Score, coming in at No. 2. Locals know how to make the most of June to September, too, with events like Hot August Nights (a celebration of all 1950s Americana had to offer, from classic cars to classic rock), the Great Reno Balloon Race (the world’s largest free hot air balloon event), the free Lazy 5 Concert Series, and the Feed the Camel fest that brings food trucks to the area on Hump Day throughout the summer. Plus, with Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park less than an hour’s drive away, Reno residents can escape the city for day trips to one of the country’s premier summer destinations, where beautiful beaches, boating, swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, and more await.
6. Portland, OR
If summer to you feels like a bike ride or tastes like an ice-cold craft beer, then there are few cities you’d be more at home in than Portland. One of the many gems of the Pacific Northwest, Portland doesn’t disappoint when it comes to natural beauty; there aren’t many places where you can go hiking in a city, but Portland is an exception, with dozens of urban hiking trails and parks located within city limits. With so many options for places to go within the city, it’s a marvel that anyone ever leaves. Plus, summer in Portland brings with it Pedalpalooza, a free, seasonal, cycling-centric event that features up to a dozen bike rides with various themes per day — and highlights the city’s vast bicycling infrastructure, which landed it the No. 3 ranking for Bike Score on our list. Meet someone new on the Summer Love Singles Ride or jam out on the Phish Ride! If relaxing is more your summer speed, you can lay out on the sandy shore of Vancouver Lake or Buck Lake, a little ways outside of the city, or check out one of PDX’s many craft breweries or beer gardens. You won’t need a car to make the most of the summer in Portland — it ranked No. 9 on our list for its Urban Accessibility Score — but if you do have one, consider a summer getaway to Willamette Valley, Oregon’s renowned wine region, for the day.
People from all over the world spend their winter days dreaming of California (just ask the Mamas & the Papas) — so when June rolls around, why wouldn’t you choose to stay in one of the country’s best Summer Cities? Sacramento ranked No. 1 on our list for its Weather Score; if you stay in Sactown, don’t expect much rain to get in the way of your fun this time of year. And trust us, there’s a lot of fun to be had here as a local. As the nation’s “Farm-to-Fork Capital,” Sacramento is a land of plenty, where you can dine in restaurants where chefs serve up produce harvested that same morning, or drink internationally celebrated wines without ever leaving your home city. Sacramento celebrates its reputation for abundant, locally grown produce with its annual Farm-to-Fork Celebration, a two-week long festival that celebrates the best the city has to offer in dining and wine. This includes a free two-day festival with live music, cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and more. There’s plenty more to do besides eat in Sacramento as well, like the Sol Blume music festival in Discovery Park. Second Saturday events also run on — you guessed it — the second Saturday of each month through October, featuring pop-up art, live music, food and drink specials at nearby restaurants, nightlife, and more. The California State Fair & Food Festival in July is another reason to stay in the city this summer, with a carnival, concert series, and more.
8. Madison, WI
If you’re the kind of person who thrives on hustle and bustle, you’ll make the most of your summer by staying home in Madison. The city ranked No. 2 on our list for its Recreation Score based on its high density of summer activities and parks — and with events like the Madison On Tap Craft Beverage Trail, a city-sponsored chance to earn prizes and discounts for “checking in” to the 30-plus breweries, cideries and distilleries in the Madison area, it’s not surprising why. If enjoying the great outdoors is what you’re after this summer, Mad City has it all — with five lakes inside the city limits, 240 miles of bike paths, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and more. The city scored No. 10 on our list for its Park Score, with over 6,000 acres of parkland spread across 270 parks to offer. If you feel like having a beach day, take a dip in any of the 8 lifeguard-protected lakes. There’s a reason why WalletHub ranked Madison as the No. 3 happiest city in the U.S. — so drop the car keys, step outside, and enjoy your exceptional Summer City!
9. Denver, CO
Colorado is a paradise for nature lovers, and its capital city of Denver is where outdoor adventure meets nightlife meets comfortable living and more. Set against the surreal Rocky Mountains, Denver offers countless escapes into nature — even if you never the city or its 80-plus miles of multi-use trails, perfect for biking. In fact, Denver ranked No. 7 on our list for its Bike Score. If you do venture a little outside the Mile High City, the views you’ll find will blow your mind. Tourists flock to the Rocky Mountain National Park every year for its unmatched hiking trails, vistas, and wildlife — so why wouldn’t you do the same? On your rest days, you can hit up the annual Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, the largest festival of its kind in the U.S. that celebrates the Chinese sport, or take a short road trip to see a concert at the open-air Red Rocks Amphitheater, a music venue so unique that the live entertainment trade publication Pollstar removed Red Rocks from its annual best small outdoor venue award after it won 11 years in a row and renamed the honor the Red Rocks Award. As far as live music goes, where could you travel that could compete with that? Living in Denver in the summertime will be comfortable, too, with the city ranking No. 4 on our list for its Amenities Score — meaning that many of its rental units offer amenities like yards, patios, pools, and more.
10. Minneapolis, MN
Residents of Minneapolis, consistently rated one of the fittest cities in the nation, are no strangers to outdoor activities — even in the winter, where many continue to commute via bike on the city’s expansive cycling infrastructure (which earned it a No. 2 spot on our list for its Bike Score) despite frigid temperatures. But while the city is more known for its less-than-forgiving winters, summer is when it really shines — and you should stick around long enough to find out why. For one, the city is known for its parks and lakes (and also ranks No. 2 for its Park Score). The popular Minnehaha Regional Park boasts 167 acres of scenic hiking, walking, and biking trails, as well as a 53-foot waterfall, limestone bluffs, and river overlooks. Not to mention, with the Mississippi River running right through downtown Minneapolis, your options abound for exploring the city from a new perspective — like via a canoe or paddle boat tour. If picnics at Gold Medal Park and short trips to lakes filled with kayakers and paddleboarders aren’t enough, you can also enjoy the city’s bustling culture and nightlife scene (check out the annual performing arts festival, Minnesota Fringe), with similarities to New York City that have afforded it the nickname of the “Mini Apple.” Minneapolis is also the most affordable city on our top 10 list, scoring No. 18 overall for its economic score.
Below is the full-ranked list of all 87 cities we analyzed.
Best Summer Cities in the U.S. 2023
|Rank||City||Summer Score||Recreation Score||Urban Accessibility Score||Weather Score||Economic Score||Amenity Score|
|1||Salt Lake City, UT||75.1||81.8||83.5||83.9||64||32.5|
|3||San Francisco, CA||72.9||97.9||100||51.2||37||51.6|
|12||Las Vegas, NV||61.9||62.4||37.8||75.8||63.1||71.6|
|13||St. Louis, MO||60.7||55.3||72.4||51.3||80.6||47|
|15||San Diego, CA||59.1||84.2||44||60.4||17.2||74.2|
|29||Los Angeles, CA||51.4||38.1||76.2||78.3||0||51.9|
|34||Kansas City, MO||49.6||43.4||18.3||58.8||71.4||75.1|
|37||New Orleans, LA||48.8||53.7||74.9||33.7||24.3||56.1|
|40||Little Rock, AR||48.4||29.9||12.7||67.5||93.3||60.1|
|44||Grand Rapids, MI||47.4||47.2||57||43.2||51.4||33.4|
|47||Corpus Christi, TX||46.9||28.2||31.1||59.9||73.5||61.8|
|48||Oklahoma City, OK||46.3||24.2||23.3||62.7||88.2||55.1|
|49||El Paso, TX||45.9||11.8||31.1||74.3||73||66.5|
|50||Des Moines, IA||45.7||29.9||31.7||59.3||85||28.1|
|52||Colorado Springs, CO||45.5||38.9||30.4||38.8||67.2||80|
|55||Sioux Falls, SD||44.1||12.6||33.6||44||96.5||81|
|58||Fort Wayne, IN||43.7||18.4||22.3||60.8||88.4||52.7|
|71||New York City, NY||42.1||26.8||96.5||44.2||0||36.8|
|73||San Antonio, TX||41.5||20.6||30.9||50.8||59.5||75.8|
|75||Baton Rouge, LA||40.3||36.7||32.2||37.5||58.6||47.2|
For the 2023 Best Summer Cities report, we analyzed 87 of the most populated cities in the U.S. (per the U.S. Census Bureau) for which all required data was available.
Metrics and Data Sources
The metrics used to create the “Recreation Score” were how many parks and outdoor, “active life” activities per capita a city has. Park data came from the Trust for Public Land and the “active life” data came from Yelp.
The metrics used to create “Weather Score” were a city’s average temperature, percentage of possible sunshine, and average number of rainy days during the summer. Weather data came from the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).
The metrics used to create the “Urban Accessibility Score” were walk score and bike score. The data came from Walkscore.
The metrics used to create the “Economic Score” were median rent prices for a one-bedroom apartments and the median individual yearly earnings in each city. Rent data came from ApartmentAdvisor and the earnings data came from the 2021 American Community Survey (ACS) as processed by SimpleMaps.
The metrics used to create the “Amenity Score” were percentage of units in each city with pools, patios, balconies, and yards. Amenity data came from ApartmentAdvisor.
We used a min/max data normalization approach when computing scores.
The Summer Score was calculated with a weighted average of the Recreation Score (30%), the Weather Score (25%), the Urban Accessibility Score (20%), the Economic Score (15%), and the Amenity Score (10%). The highest final score was considered the “best summer” score. The Final Rank is calculated by ranking the cities where the highest final score is the best.
Notes About the Data
For more information about this study, please contact email@example.com.
We rate and sort every listing based on fair market rent.
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