By Randy Yagi
With just a handful of weeks left, time is running out to start planning for an end of summer vacation. While there are several great places to consider for that best trip ever, a handful of destinations seem to always have the best of everything, from great food and lodging to world-class attractions and lively festivals and events. Of the many great cities to visit before the summer ends, here are five of the very best.
As the capital of Texas and the Live Music Capital of the world, there is always something fun and exciting to do in Austin. This is especially true by mid-August and into the shoulder season after the busy Labor Day weekend, when lodging becomes more affordable and crowds are noticeably thinner. While there are several must-see attractions to see, such as the State Capitol, South Congress Avenue and the legendary music scene on Sixth Street, Austin and its surrounding areas within the famous Texas Hill Country can offer so much more before summer's out, especially at places to keep cool from the lingering warm weather. For instance, there are water activities at Barton Springs Pool inside popular Zilker Park and Typhoon Texas Waterpark, as well as the world's best water park at Schlitterbahn Waterpark in New Braunfels. There is also the scenic Highland Lakes in nearby Burnet County, for popular recreational activities like boating on Lake Buchanan, kayaking and swimming in the Devil's Waterhole at Inks Lake State Park, exploring the air-conditioned Longhorn Caverns, or taking the delightful Canyon Cruise and award-winning dining at Overlook Restaurant on the lovely and eco-friendly Canyon of the Eagles Nature Park and Resort. Of course, there are plenty of other fun things to do in the Austin/Texas Hill Country area, including its world famous wine tasting, golfing on the Austin Golf Trail, the LBJ Presidential Library and end of summer festivals like the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, Austin Pride Festival & Parade and the Austin Music Video Festival. Among the other suggested places to stay are Lakeway Resort & Spa, Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa, Omni Barton Resort & Spa and Travaasa Austin.
Just a short drive from Virginia's largest city and most popular seaside destination, Norfolk might seem like an unlikely alternative to sun-kissed Virginia Beach. On the other hand, with smaller crowds, more availability of rooms and a wealth of history and culture, the state's second largest city is an exceptional destination to enjoy the waning days of summer, as well as a convenient spot to enjoy the best of both cities. Located in the historic Hampton Roads region along the Chesapeake Bay and Elizabeth River, Norfolk might be best known as the home of the largest navy station in the world. But aside from famous waterfront attractions like the USS Wisconsin battleship, there are several reasons why Norfolk was named among the best cities to visit this year by Travel+Leisure, as well as considered one of America's friendliest destinations. For a few suggested activities, visitors can enjoy a stroll through the NEON District in downtown, particularly to see the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Virginia Zoo, Harrison Opera House, Chrysler Hall and the downtown waterfront, which features Harbor Park, the home field of the Norfolk Tides baseball team and Town Point Park, the city's premier waterfront entertainment venue for such upcoming events as Opera in the Park, Ribtoberfest and Southern Foodways. Suggested lodging include the Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel, Norfolk Waterside Marriott and the elegant new Hilton Norfolk The Main.
Panama City Beach
Between Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Daytona Beach, Tampa and many others, there's no shortage of popular summertime destinations in Florida. Yet aside from the Sunshine State's most visited cities are other tropical gems within the Florida Panhandle, like the capital city of Tallahassee, historic Pensacola, known as America's First Settlement and last but certainly not least, Panama City Beach. Not to be confused with neighboring Panama City a few miles to the east, Panama City Beach (PCB) is widely known as the "Spring Break Capital of the World", drawing tens of thousands of college students from all over the country. But this resort community situated along the Gulf of Mexico's Emerald Coast is actually a year-round destination, with 320 days of sunshine annually and 27 spectacular miles of sugary-white sandy beaches that are considered among the best in the world. Suitably nicknamed the "world's most beautiful beaches", PCB is a continually trending hotspot for water-based activities, including snorkeling, surfing, paddle boarding and boating. But there are many other things to do in Panama City Beach including trips to Gulf World Marine Park and St. Andrews State Park, as well as upcoming major events like the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam with country music headliners Jason Aldean, Little Big Town and Luke Bryan over Labor Day weekend and the Lobster Festival beginning September 11. As is expected of a popular seaside resort city, Panama City Beach is noted for its wide selection of lodging, with smart choices like Marriott's Legends Edge at Bay Point, Sheraton Bay Point Resort with its Jack Nicklaus designed golf course and the Carillon Beach Rentals.
It's often said the best time of year to visit Phoenix is during the winter and spring. However, there are plenty of reasons to visit before summer's end, especially now that the temperatures are starting to dip throughout the sprawling area known as the Valley of the Sun. Take for example the discounted rates throughout the Greater Phoenix Area and particularly in Scottsdale, the setting for several world-class resorts such as Andaz Scottsdale Resort & Spa, the family-friendly Westin Kierland and the AAA Five Star properties Boulders Resort & Spa and Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, each of which were offering captivating rooms for under $125 in August. What's more, these extraordinary resorts offer multi-award winning spa treatments and state-of-the-art pool facilities to keep cool from the desert heat, as well as other fine amenities and services like bike rentals, high-end fitness centers, gourmet dining and easy access to championship caliber golf courses and tennis courts. In addition to the luxurious resort properties in Scottsdale and outlying areas of Phoenix like the stunning JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa and the Arizona Biltmore , there are many other options right in downtown, including the Westin Phoenix Downtown, Kimpton Hotel Palomar Phoenix and the fabulous Camby Hotel, which features a rooftop pool and the acclaimed Artizen restaurant. While most summertime visitors will want to spend a lot of time at poolside, there are many other attractions to explore, including the Desert Botanical Garden, Heard Museum, a Diamondbacks ballgame at Chase Field, the must-see Museum of Musical Instruments (MIM), world-class cocktails at Bitter and Twisted Cocktail Parlour and yes, even a very entertaining Goat Yoga Arizona session in the up-and-coming city of Gilbert just south of the equally vibrant community of Mesa.
The weather can be unpredictable and people and traffic seem to be everywhere. But this is a very special summer to visit San Francisco as it continues to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, the legendary happening in the city during the summer of 1967 that made the iconic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood the epicenter of America's counter-culture movement. While many Summer of Love 2017 festivities have already passed, visitors can still enjoy marquee events like Jerry (Garcia) Day at McLaren Park, the annual Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival in Golden Gate Park, with headliners like Metallica, the Who, Lorde and A Tribe Called Quest, the final four admission-free concerts at the must-see Stern Grove Festival, the Pop, Minimal, and Figurative Art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and a host of other events all over the city. Among other notable attractions to consider are the Summer of Love exhibit at the de Young Museum, the legendary Fillmore music venue, the Jimi Hendrix exhibition at the Museum of African Diaspora and wax figures of 1960s music icons like Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and Hendrix at Madame Tussauds San Francisco, adjacent to the equally entertaining San Francisco Dungeon. Of course, many of the city's leading hotels are offering Summer of Love specials, including St. Regis San Francisco, the Marker Hotel, Hotel Vitale, and the brand new Hotel Zoe, a gorgeous new addition to the Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood. Additionally, there are exceptional summer packages at the Conde Nast Traveler-rated Hotel Zephyr and introductory rates directly through the stunning new Hotel VIA, right across from AT&T Park or through attractive last minute rates offered by the popular San Francisco-based travel app HotelTonight.
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