The Most Fun Thing to Do in Every State This Summer
You can do a lot better than a trip to the pool.
Summer is officially here, which means it's time to head out in the sun and do all your favorite warm-weather activities. A picnic one weekend, a trip to the beach another, maybe even a bonfire at night. But if you're looking to really amp things up, you might want to try something entirely out-of-the-box and unexpected. To help you fill your calendar with fun things to do this summer, we've rounded up the most exciting seasonal events and attractions in every state. From zip-lining over swathes of Alaskan wilderness to setting sail on a windjammer in Maine, we've found something for everyone—everywhere.
Alabama: Spend a day at the Huntsville Botanical Garden.
The Huntsville Botanical Garden receives thousands of visitors per year—and for good reason. With 112 acres of land and a seemingly endless array of plants and wildlife, there is always something "growing on" at this Alabama oasis. For example, throughout the months of June and July, you can go on a Firefly Night Hike or take an outside yoga class. And, naturally, the center holds weekly events that revolve around its plants, including everything from hydrangea walks and Composting 101 to family campouts and butterfly releases.
Alaska: Zip-line at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah.
Located 30 miles west of Juneau, the small community of Hoonah offers its guests an adrenaline-filled ride through the mountains. At Icy Strait Point, visitors hike to the top of Hoonah Mountain and hop on a zip-line that flies them back down the mountain at 60 miles per hour. (Yes, you can see the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness as the falcons do.)
Arizona: Go tubing on the Salt River.
In Arizona, summertime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees, so any activity that allows a reprieve from the heat is ideal. Fortunately, visitors to the state can still enjoy the beauty of the outdoors without succumbing to the sun. In the Tonto National Forest, tubing (floating down the river in an inner tube) on the Salt River is the thing to do. Simply slather on some sunscreen and pack a few bottles of water (the tubing company provides tubes specially equipped with coolers) and hit the water.
Arkansas: Eat watermelon at the Hope Watermelon Festival.
If Hope, Arkansas, is known for one thing, it's the record-sized watermelons. That's why, every August, dating back to the mid-1920s, the city has hosted the Hope Watermelon Festival. The present-day festival features arts and crafts, food, and entertainment. There's even a Watermelon Olympics event, including events such as the watermelon toss. You'll also get to see some of the biggest Hope watermelons of the year, some of which tip the scales at nearly 200 pounds.
California: Ride horses along the Point Reyes National Seashore.
Never ridden a horse before? This coastal trail might persuade you to give it a whirl. After saddling up at Point Reyes Lodging, you and your group (the lodge provides guided rides) will head over to California's stunning Point Reyes National Seashore. There, you'll traverse miles of seaside trails on horseback.
Colorado: Ride a hot air balloon over the Rockies.
If your dream is to float peacefully in a hot air balloon surrounded by breathtaking beauty, then Colorado Hot Air Balloon Mountain Flights have you covered. Setting off in Breckenridge, the ride will give you sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains. Each ride lasts approximately one hour and travels a distance of between two and 10 miles.
Connecticut: Attend a summer camp for adults.
Miss the good ole days of summer camp? Well, as it turns out, Club Getaway in Kent, Connecticut, can recreate your most nostalgic moments. The "camp for adults" offers a plethora of outdoorsy experiences like kayaking, archery, rock climbing, and arts and crafts. But, most importantly, the whole shebang is fueled by something you definitely didn't have at camp as a kid: a bar.
Delaware: Take the Cape Water Taxi.
It's true: Delaware has some beautiful beaches and waterways. That means one of the best things to do in this coastal state is hit the water. If you don't have a boat of your own, head out on a Cape Water Taxi tour. The company offers narrated tours that discuss everything from the history of the Lewes shoreline to the stories of the area's pirates. You can also take a live music cruise if that's more your style.
Florida: Kayak the bioluminescent waters in Titusville.
Just outside of Titusville, Florida, on the state's famed Space Coast, exists a fairytale-like cove where the local plankton give off a bioluminescent glow. And from June to early October, visitors can witness the phenomena in the most stunning way possible: by embarking on a tour in a clear-bottom kayak. Since the tour is on a wildlife refuge, you might also see manatees, dolphins, herons, and other rare wildlife species.
Georgia: Explore Tybee Island.
Tybee Island, a barrier island and a small town off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, is a popular attraction for those who want a relatively tourist-free beach vacation. From the picturesque lighthouse to the scenic pier, there are plenty of places to kick back and relax during your summer trip. Plus, since Savannah is nearby, you can hit up the city's historical centers and visit its stunning gardens if you wish to pick up the pace.
Hawaii: Attend Duke's OceanFest in Honolulu.
In Hawaii, Duke Paoa Kahinu Mokoe Hulikohola Kahanamoku, the athlete credited with popularizing the ancient sport of surfing in the early 1900s, is a pretty big deal. He's such a big deal, in fact, that a celebration is held each year in his honor on Honolulu's famous Waikiki Beach. The celebration, called Duke's OceanFest, includes various water competitions, from a canoe regatta to a one-mile swim. There are non-sport events too, such as a movie night on the sand, and a luau. In 2020, it takes place from August 22 to 30.
Idaho: Picnic at Shoshone Falls.
Often called the "Niagara of the West," Shoshone Falls, in Twin Falls, Idaho, is best paired with an idyllic picnic right on the water's edge. This stunning feature is 212 feet tall (45 feet higher than Niagara) and 900 feet wide.
Illinois: Get a bird's-eye view of Chicago.
Visitors to the John Hancock Observatory already had to battle any fears of heights; 360-degree views of the Windy City from a glass-paneled observation deck on the 94th floor can make even those who aren't acrophobic shudder. But recently, the attraction added a new twist—or a new tilt, we should say. With Tilt, visitors throw caution to the wind (we're only joking, it's very safe) and lean against a glass wall that tilts them out from the building, offering an unparalleled view of the city.
Indiana: Visit the Indianapolis Zoo.
No matter where you live, visiting the zoo is one of the best summer activities out there. That's true for the Indianapolis Zoo, too. Plus, throughout the summer, this zoo offers a concert series: Zoopalooza (July 19-24, 2020). The evenings feature a special food menu, a full bar, and extended hours for viewing the animals and riding the rides.
Iowa: Go bridge hunting.
True, bridges are stationary—but that doesn't mean they don't make for a good scavenger hunt, especially in Madison County, the "Covered Bridge Capital of Iowa." The Welcome Center in Winterset can provide you with a map to guide you to each of the six covered bridges in the county, three of which can only be reached by driving down a dirt road. You're sure to capture at least one photo that would make for the perfect whimsical Instagram post, especially if you stick around for the mid-October Covered Bridge Festival.
Kansas: Journey into the frightening depths of a salt mine.
Delve into the earth with Strataca, a museum affiliated with the Hutchinson Salt Company—and the only salt mine in the nation that allows tourists into its depths. Venture roughly 650 feet underground to take a tram tour through the mine. Then explore the mining gallery on foot. (Bring good walking shoes!)
Kentucky: Drink your way through the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
When in Kentucky, it's almost a sin if you don't take at least one swig of the state's signature drink: bourbon. To get a real sense of the spirit, be sure to check out the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a delightfully tipsy experience that allows you to drink your way through the state—from the Wild Turkey Distillery to where Maker's Mark made its mark on history.
Louisiana: Go crabbing in Cameron Parish.
Even if you're not an experienced fisherman or fisherwoman, fishing for crabs in Cameron Parish in Louisiana will at least give you a sense of admiration for the sport. Not only that, but after your fishing escapades have come to an end, you can explore the surrounding towns that are chock full of southern charm.
Maine: Cruise on a windjammer.
Nothing beats setting sail on a windjammer, a traditional vessel (a schooner-type sailboat) with cozy close quarters. The crew will usually even let you try your hand at raising the sail, hoisting the anchor, or steering the boat as you cruise along the coast for a few hours or a few days. Pro tip: To get the most authentic Maine experience, top your trip off with a lobster roll.
Maryland: Revel in the art at Artscape.
Over the course of three days, the Artscape festival in Baltimore, Maryland, attracts thousands of visitors and offers a rich abundance of local art, music, and culture. In 2020, this festival takes place from July 17-19. If you're looking to get a true idea of what this state has to offer the art world, attend this festival, which features "150+ fine artists, fashion designers, and craftspeople."
Massachusetts: Walk the Freedom Trail.
This one's for all you history buffs. The next time you're in Massachusetts, follow along the 2.5-mile red line in Boston that leads to a series of 16 sites integral to the American Revolution. The Freedom Trail winds through Beacon Hill—one of the most architecturally stunning neighborhoods in the country—and leads you to the home of Paul Revere, the site of the Boston Massacre, and more.
Michigan: Survey the sand dunes.
Michigan, because it borders the Great Lakes, is filled with sand—and lots of it. Michiganders rave about Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, a national lakeshore that offers a multitude of activities, from the granola (camping) to the sporty (mountain biking) to the family-friendly (exploring a lighthouse). If you feel like indulging in a more laid-back atmosphere, there are plenty of wineries in the region, so you can sip vino while scanning the dunes from a comfortable distance.
Minnesota: Catch a glimpse of the northern lights in Voyageurs National Park.
Yes, there are ways to see the famous northern lights in parts of the United States that don't require you to trek through the ice and snow—including Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota. Though you are slightly more likely to spot this famous au natural light display during the winter, there are still certain cloudless nights when you can catch a glimpse of the red and purple hues from your tent.
Mississippi: Attend the Tupelo Elvis Festival.
In Tupelo, Mississippi, residents are constantly reminded that Elvis Presley, who was born here, once walked the same streets. So, to honor the birth of an icon that inevitably changed the American music scene, the city of Tupelo throws a yearly bash that attracts hundreds of thousands of Presley fans each year. (In 2020, it runs June 3-7.) From impersonation contests to historical reenactments, the Tupelo Elvis Festival packs a musical punch. And if you miss the main event, don't worry; there's plenty of Presley history in this town year-round.
Missouri: Wander the streets of Silver Dollar City.
A theme park with a nod to history, Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, is filled with roller coaster rides, family-friendly shows, and displays of 1880s Ozarks culture, with craftsmen who demonstrate the arts of glassblowing, candle making, and more.
And if you're up for exploring beyond the theme park, the city of Branson itself is also replete with a variety of one-of-a-kind experiences. Consider visiting the Titanic Museum, which is constructed like the legendary sinking ship itself (and marketed as the world's largest museum attraction) or eating a meal at Mel's Hard Luck Diner, where servers trying to make it in the music business will serenade you as they deliver your supper.
Montana: Go swimming in Flathead Lake.
Covering an impressive 197 square miles, Flathead Lake in northwest Montana is the perfect weekend destination—a delectable slice of nature fit for fishing, swimming, or just lazing about. Don't forget your sunscreen!
Nebraska: Wade through a field of sunflowers at the Arbor Day Farm.
Now minted a National Historic Landmark, the Arbor Day Farm, in Nebraska City, Nebraska, is actually the site of the very first Arbor Day celebration in the United States, held in 1872. Decades later, visitors to this farm can explore the impressive collection of trees and wade through the fields of sunflowers.
Nevada: Soak in a natural spring under the stars.
More so than many other states, Nevada offers travelers a chance to take a dip in a series of natural springs located in every part of the state. Depicted above, Spencer Hot Springs is a perfect example of the appeal of the state's rugged hot springs—an idyllic out-of-the-way retreat located off "America's Loneliest Highway," and surrounded by the incredible backdrop of the Toiyabe Range.
New Hampshire: Imbibe a local IPA at the New Hampshire Brewers Festival.
Calling all IPA aficionados: the New Hampshire Brewers Festival, held on July 11, 2020, offers locals and outsiders a chance to familiarize themselves with the local craft beer culture. At the festival, some 4o local brewers showcase more than 120 state craft beers. Don't try to drink them all!
New Jersey: Walk around historic Cape May.
Rather than head to the more obvious New Jersey summertime destinations (goodbye, Atlantic City!), venture instead to Cape May, a seaside resort at the southern tip of New Jersey's Cape May Peninsula. Whether you're climbing up the stairs of the Cape May Lighthouse to take in sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean or treating yourself to a meal at one of the restaurants on Washington Street Mall, you won't regret your detour from the typical beach vacation.
New Mexico: Go stargazing at Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.
Though paying a visit to Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico during the day bears a magic of its own, you'll really want to see it during dusk or full-blown night. On a good night, you can even catch an untarnished view of the Milky Way.
New York: Dance to live music at the MoMA PS1 Warm Up.
Over the course of nine Saturdays in the summer, the Museum of Modern Art PS1 in Queens presents a thrilling outdoor concert series. Previous alumni include the likes of Solange, Cardi B, Thom Yorke, and Jamie XX. In New York, there are plenty of hot shows in town. This might be the hottest.
North Carolina: Head to Southport for a romantic island vacation.
If this town sounds (or looks) familiar, it's because numerous filmmakers have turned to its idyllic beaches to film a number of movies and television shows from Dawson's Creek to Nicolas Sparks film adaptations like Safe Haven. And now, it's possible to have your own fairytale romance set in Southport—a city with more cinematic beaches and cozy restaurants than you can shake a stick at.
North Dakota: Go to the Medora Musical.
Since 1965, the Burning Hills Amphitheater near Medora, North Dakota, has hosted the Medora Musical during the summer months—a musical look back at the "Wild West" days of the state.
Ohio: Zip-line under the full moon at Camp Kern.
What's better than going zip-lining through the lush Ohio wilderness? How about zip-lining under the light of the full moon. That's right—at Camp Kern in Ohio, you can get the speed rush of a zip-line but with minimal visual reference, for maximum adrenaline. (Don't worry: it's entirely safe.)
Oklahoma: Mosey around the National Cowboy Museum.
Take just a few steps into Prosperity Junction, a reproduction of an early 1900s Western town, and you'll be wishing you had donned your spurs and chaps for a saunter into the saloon or the one-room schoolhouse. Properly known as the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, this Oklahoma City gem is dedicated to preserving the "evolving history and cultures of the American West," as detailed in its mission statement. The museum features galleries of Western art and exhibitions that explore the Wild West, from real-life rodeos to the fictional feats of John Wayne.
Oregon: Stargaze and drink beer at the Hopservatory in Bend.
More so than any other place in the state of Oregon, the Hopservatory (the brainchild of local brew heroes Worthy Brewing) in Bend, Oregon, allows adults to be kids again—with a twist. With a beer in hand, those lucky enough to pay a visit to Worthy Brewing can ascend the stairs to the cleverly named Hopservatory to catch a glimpse of the cosmos.
Pennsylvania: Ride roller coasters and eat chocolate at Hersheypark.
To get a behind-the-scenes look at how your favorite Hershey's bar is made (if you dare), pay a visit to Hersheypark in the appropriately-named Hershey, Pennsylvania. And if you're seeking something more fun than sweet, perhaps a ride on one of the many rollercoaster rides in the amusement park could make your stay at the institution a memorable one.
Rhode Island: Watch a river get set on fire!
Yes, this event is every bit as intriguing as its name suggests. Every summer and early fall, Rhode Islanders and tourists alike gather to drink in the splendor of WaterFire Providence, a modern art display where more than 80 fire sculptures are set ablaze on the surface of the three rivers that flow through Providence. Venetian gondolas cruise the waterway and Tibetan chanting music wafts from underneath the bridges. Bonus: Attendance is totally free!
South Carolina: Meander through the Charleston City Market.
Serving locals since 1788, the City Market is a longstanding Charleston tradition. While wandering through the three-block-long market, shoppers can peruse an array of wares from authentic sweetgrass baskets to fresh produce to unique, handmade art—and everything in between! In evenings from March through December, the market stays hopping with live entertainment from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.
South Dakota: Go rock climbing in Black Hills National Forest.
Though climbing the Mount Rushmore monument is strictly prohibited, rock climbers of all abilities have the opportunity to explore a number of other beautiful and challenging rock formations throughout Black Hills National Forest in western South Dakota. In Keystone, the Wrinkled Rock Climbers trailhead offers parking and a gathering place for rock climbers to meet before exploring all of the peaks in the park.
Tennessee: The Fiddlers' Jamboree and Crafts Festival in Smithville.
For those who aren't familiar with this local favorite, the Fiddlers' Jamboree and Crafts Festival, in Smithville, Tennessee, is designed to show off the state's proud Appalachian heritage, showcasing more than 35 music and dance categories, streets full of food and crafts, and—surely, this won't surprise you—plenty of fiddling. In 2020, the festival is happening on July 3-4, over Independence Day.
Texas: Watch the cows come home.
You'll feel like you're stepping back into the Wild West when you set foot in the Fort Worth Stockyards, with its authentic wooden corrals and brick-lined streets. While there, you won't want to miss the "world's only twice-daily cattle drive," where the Fort Worth Herd of cattle is shepherded through the streets at 11:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
While you wait for the cows, you can try out one of the nearby steakhouses or stop by Billy Bob's, the "world's largest honky-tonk." If you time it right, you might even be in town for the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, a three-week-long event teeming with bucking broncos, calf scrambles, tractor parades, and more.
Utah: Go on a full moon hike in Bryce Canyon.
During full moons, the canyons and rocky trails of Bryce Canyon take on an entirely different personality. To see this new side of Bryce Canyon in Utah for yourself, the park offers guided full moon tours to those visitors willing to brave the dark to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way's reflection over the darkest corners of the canyon. Just be sure to bring your hiking boots!
Vermont: Get a behind-the-scenes look at Ben & Jerry's.
Aside from long days at the beach, summer also means enjoying more than your fair share of cold sweet treats—like Ben & Jerry's ice cream. And there's no better vacation destination than the place where Ben & Jerry's ice cream was created: the Waterbury Factory in Vermont.
Throughout the year, special tours are offered at the Waterbury Factory. There are quite a bit of free samples along the way, along with a whimsical walk through the Flavors Graveyard, where visitors get a chance to see all of the flavors that never made it to the big leagues.
Virginia: Stroll the streets of colonial Williamsburg.
Learn all about how our forefathers (and foremothers) lived with a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, where you can watch craftsmen hone their skills, hear from a "Nation Builder" like Martha Washington or James Armistead Lafayette, or sit back and enjoy a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
After your day of history, be sure to take the long way home with a detour along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a stretch of winding roads that hug the Blue Ridge Mountains and provide a series of scenic outlooks guaranteed to take your breath away.
Washington: Brave the whitewater.
Strap on your lifejackets and prepare to lean into the rapids on a trip to Washington. Ranging from the kid-friendly Class I to the daring Class IV, the rivers of Washington have something for every would-be whitewater rafter, according to Seattle magazine. For those who might favor fun that is a little less stomach-churning, the Washington coast is also an excellent spot for whale watching.
West Virginia: Walk above an Appalachian gorge.
Constructed in 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge was built to allow vehicles to traverse the mountainous range of West Virginia—but that doesn't mean that pedestrians can't enjoy it, too. Book a tour with Bridge Walk, and you can fasten yourself into a safety cable and walk across the length of the 3,030-foot structure, which affords jaw-dropping views of the rushing New River in the gorge below. Or, if you can work it into your schedule, try to visit on "Bridge Day," an annual celebration on the third Saturday of October where the bridge is shut down to automobile traffic so adventure-seekers can rappel, zip line, or BASE jump off of it.
Wisconsin: Explore the architectural feast at The House on the Rock.
Since 1960, Alex Jordan's amazing creation has been open to the public in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Featuring an assortment of interesting architecture from the world's largest carousel to automated music machines and more special wonders within the rooms of this House on the Rock.
Wyoming: Go camping on Jenny Lake.
Located in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Jenny Lake is described by many as the highlight of this national park, giving campers a gorgeous view to wake up to every morning. After a morning swim, go for a hike in the number of trails that surround the lake. And if you're looking to escape the crowds, here's Where to Go on Your Next Summer Vacation.