Remember that feeling when school was out and long, sun-filled days and starry nights stretched before you as if they’d last forever? These sights, tastes and sounds from around the U.S will help you recapture the season’s sense of infinite possibilities, whether you’re a first-time visitor, up for a road trip or just looking for a good beach. Come on in — the water’s warm.
FIRST THINGS FIRST. Cool off in a crystal-clear body of water. Cannonball into the refreshing WARREN FALLS swimming hole on Vermont’s Mad River. Kayak for blissful miles down the KANSAS RIVER TRAIL. White-water-raft through the SNAKE RIVER CANYON of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Stand-up-paddleboard on the glassy surface of SUMMERSVILLE LAKE in West Virginia.
PUT YOUR CAR ON A BOAT. Sometimes the best road trips don’t require roads. Take the scenic route on one of these ferries:
WEST COAST — You can cross Puget Sound — going from Port Defiance in Tacoma or Fauntleroy in Seattle on the WASHINGTON STATE DOT FERRIES to Vashon Island — in just 20 minutes. Look for sea lions and orcas, then explore the island’s beaches and shops.
WAY NORTHWEST — At 10 hours, the ALASKA MARINE HIGHWAY SYSTEM FERRY from Juneau to Sitka is practically a cruise — and the scenery is spectacular, including forests, the Coast Mountains and the Mendenhall Glacier, all viewed from a heated solarium.
MIDWEST — Dare to navigate “Death’s Door Passage” on Lake Michigan (a legendary spot for shipwrecks). It’s a half-hour ride from Wisconsin’s Door County Peninsula on the WASHINGTON ISLAND FERRY LINE to the restful island, a haven for bird-watchers and kayakers.
EAST COAST — Sail from one historic era to another on the CAPE MAY–LEWES FERRY. Lewes, Delaware, is a trove of Dutch Colonial architecture, and Cape May, New Jersey, is full of Victorian homes — plus the seaside Congress Hall Hotel, which turns 200 this summer.
FIND AN (ALMOST) EMPTY BEACH. When you want a peaceful stretch of sand, not a crazy scene, head here. On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, venture south and over the Oregon Inlet to RODANTHE. Swap the swanky hotels and bikinis of South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida, for the dunes, quiet bike paths and lighthouse of family-friendly BILL BAGGS CAPE FLORIDA STATE PARK, on nearby Key Biscayne. Twenty-five miles from busy Myrtle Beach, PAWLEYS ISLAND, South Carolina, offers near solitude from low-key Prince George to DeBordieu.
GET NAUTICAL: Spanish galleons, Canadian schooners and other high-masted vessels are hitting the Great Lakes for the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE race; salute them in Ohio at the Tall Ships Fairport Harbor Festival, on Lake Erie, held from July 8 to 10.
BASK IN A KILLER SUNSET. Settle in on a blanket at one of these three famous vantage points: the secluded southern shore of TYBEE ISLAND, Georgia; the sweeping white-sand beach on DAUPHIN ISLAND, Alabama; or BUTTERFLY BEACH in Santa Barbara, California, across from famed Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore.
RUN THROUGH A SPRINKLER. Sure, your backyard hose will get the job done, but these city oases make the experience next-level.
— Clamber over the sandstone WATER STEPS in Pittsburgh’s North Shore Riverfront Park, which offer views of the skyline along the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.
— Climb down the terraces of the WATER GARDENS, architect Philip Johnson’s recessed meditation pool in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.
— Cool off in 13,000 gallons of H2O down the concrete cliffs of KELLER FOUNTAIN PARK in Portland, Oregon.
BEHOLD A NATURAL WONDER. August 25 is the centennial of the National Park Service (thank you, Teddy Roosevelt!), so all 127 parks that charge admission are waiving it from that day through August 28. Each offers breathtaking landscapes, from the red-rock formations in ARCHES in Moab, Utah, to the mesmerizing dune patterns at GREAT SAND DUNES in Mosca, Colorado.
BREAK FOR FOOD FESTIVALS: Talk about an embarrassment of riches — there’s a fest for practically every day of the summer.
JULY 2–9 — Cherry-pick your activities at the CHERRY FESTIVAL in Traverse City, Michigan, which has pie-eating and pit-spitting tourneys, Big Wheel races, singing contests, concerts and fireworks.
AUGUST 3–7 — Enter the GREAT LOBSTER CRATE RACE at the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland.
AUGUST 11–13 — Visit the home of the country’s largest watermelons (and birthplace of one former president) at the HOPE WATERMELON FESTIVAL in Hope, Arkansas.
AUGUST 12–14 — Taste what’s known as “purple gold” in pancakes, ice cream, cheesecake and more during the 37th annual HUCKLEBERRY FESTIVAL in Trout Creek, Montana.
SEPTEMBER 3–4 — As summer cools down, heat things up at the HATCH VALLEY CHILE FESTIVAL in Hatch, New Mexico.
...AND STATE FAIRS. Dare to eat the Donut Burger, a fully loaded patty between two glazed donuts, at the OHIO STATE FAIR, July 27 to August 7; the Cornbrat, a corn-batter-dipped bratwurst at the IOWA STATE FAIR, August 11 to 21; or the Bacon-in-a-Blanket, two slices of battered and deep-fried bacon on a stick, at the NEBRASKA STATE FAIR, August 26 to September 5.
TAKE TWO WHEELS AND CYCLE BACK IN TIME. The 237-mile KATY TRAIL along the Missouri River passes through prairies, farms and vineyards. The 335-mile GREAT ALLEGHENY PASSAGE (or GAP trail) spans wooded paths from Pittsburgh to the District of Columbia. The 444-mile NATCHEZ TRACE PARKWAY traverses Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, winding through archaeological sites and gorgeous vistas.
HUNT FOR TREASURE: Mark your calendar to scour these troves: BRIMFIELD, July 12 to 17 and September 6 to 11, in Massachusetts, is the country’s largest outdoor antiques show. The RENEGADE CRAFT FAIR, in Seattle July 23 and 24, brings together more than 200 makers in a renovated aircraft hangar. The BEREA CRAFT FESTIVAL, July 8 to 10 in Kentucky’s craft capital, is a hub for wood-carvers, potters and leatherworkers.
SADDLE UP. See cowboys ride, rope and barrel-race — all in a spectacular Rocky Mountain-top setting — during the 91st anniversary ROOFTOP RODEO in Estes Park, Colorado, from July 6 to 11. Explore the range at RED HORSE MOUNTAIN RANCH in Harrison, Idaho, which offers weeklong family dude-ranch packages all summer long. Grab a fancy hat and head to the box seats at the SARATOGA racetrack in New York, which is up and running from July 22 to September 5.
ATTEND AN OUTDOOR CONCERT.
CLASSICAL: The GRANT PARK MUSIC FESTIVAL outdoor concert series, in Chicago’s Millennium Park from June 15 to August 20.
JAZZ: The LITCHFIELD JAZZ FESTIVAL, in Goshen, Connecticut, on August 6 and 7.
SHOW TUNES: The RENO PHILHARMONIC’S “BROADWAY ON THE BEACH” at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, in Nevada.
BREATHE IN SOME BEAUTY. Across the country, flowers are in full bloom.
— The NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN in the Bronx, New York, has created gardens resembling the works of American impressionists for its 125th-anniversary exhibit, American Gardens on Canvas, on view from until September 11.
— The PORTLAND JAPANESE GARDEN in Oregon is showcasing four bamboo artists at the Bending Nature show, beginning August 20.
— The INTERNATIONAL PEACE GARDEN straddles the border between Canada and North Dakota — and from late July through the end of August, it bursts with roses, geraniums, petunias, and lilies.
— The QUILT GARDENS along the Heritage Trail Driving Tour, in northern Indiana’s Amish Country, feature more than a million flowers planted in quiltlike patterns.
WATCH A FILM ALFRESCO. Who wants to sit inside a theater on a gorgeous night? Enjoy a movie — and a balmy breeze — on one of these screens.
Pull up to the CAPRI DRIVE-IN in Coldwater, Michigan, which is still run by the same family that opened it in 1964. (To find a drive-in closer to you, visit driveintheatre-ownersassociation.org.)
See recent box-office hits against the Manhattan skyline when the city of Hoboken, New Jersey, shows MOVIES UNDER THE STARS on the waterfront every Wednesday from June 8 through August 17.
Mile-high flicks are preceded by a concert and a stand-up comic in the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheater during the Denver Film Society’s FILMS ON THE ROCKS series, from through September 6.
DANCE BAREFOOT. Kick off your shoes — or kick back and watch the modern dancers at the AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL in Durham, North Carolina, June 16 to July 30. See pros in every style, from ballet to ballroom, at the VAIL INTERNATIONAL DANCE FESTIVAL in Colorado, July 30 to August 13. Or catch global masters of tap, flamenco, and hip-hop at JACOB’S PILLOW, America’s longest-running dance festival, held June 18 to August 24 in Massachusetts’s Berkshire Mountains.
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(Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.)