2021’s Best Cities for Your Summer Vaxcation

Friends on a road trip in a red Jeep, taking a selfie

You’re vaccinated and ready to travel, but which cities offer the most bang for your buck while keeping you safe? 

To help you plan your first post-pandemic trip, LawnStarter ranked the Best Cities for Your Summer Vaxcation. 

What exactly is a “vaxcation”? Just what it sounds like: a vacation for the COVID-vaccinated.

We compared the 200 biggest U.S. cities based on 30 key metrics. We looked into costs, Airbnb rates, the weather, and, of course, each city’s vaccination rate, among other indicators of a fun (and relatively low-risk) summer break.

Check out our ranking below, followed by some highlights, lowlights, and expert post-pandemic travel advice.

Wherever you travel this summer, have a safe journey — and follow CDC guidelines and state and local recommendations.

Table of Contents

  1. City Rankings
  2. Highlights and Lowlights
  3. Ask the Experts
  4. Methodology
  5. Why This Study Matters

City Rankings 

See how each city fared in our ranking:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScoreGetting Around RankLodging RankDining and Drinking RankHaving Fun RankStaying Safe RankBeing Outside Rank
1San Francisco, CA52.049176101250
2Portland, OR4614991782060
3Providence, RI45.7326712137498
4Garden Grove, CA45.4946118951133
5Washington, DC45.24113562214091
6Honolulu, HI43.6463166212701
7Jersey City, NJ43.481014716750128
8Seattle, WA43.35151162033970
9Las Vegas, NV43.34134158738243
10New Orleans, LA42.59541642988191
11Paradise, NV41.261181993102243
12Oakland, CA411811328274750
13Boston, MA40.921114836411282
14Salt Lake City, UT40.782610318718658
15Pittsburgh, PA40.538111152059168
16Fullerton, CA40.231001803041163
17Hollywood, FL40.196519086133180
18Arlington, VA40179111812791
19Sunnyvale, CA39.952564128212650
20Lexington, KY39.55456498521111
21Pasadena, CA39.441912453111573
22Minneapolis, MN38.8488186721688
23Madison, WI38.494211234525135
24Fort Lauderdale, FL38.3888178512163180
25Denver, CO38.222015026584275
26Huntington Beach, CA38.183016713214983
27Reno, NV38.03120119161812042
28Nashville, TN37.9271914042123155
29Bellevue, WA37.75183623917470
30Boise, ID37.74622833433957
31Rochester, NY37.43518235453894
32Long Beach, CA37.3716146101281682
33Hayward, CA37.31552654473750
34Tucson, AZ37.17665877196367
35Eugene, OR36.88346047772968
36New York, NY36.6131591882948127
37Fort Collins, CO36.45299464624375
38Yonkers, NY36.365214599653128
39Orlando, FL36.25741201324142197
40Torrance, CA36.144911531391483
41Grand Rapids, MI35.9156134376334100
42Alexandria, VA35.8233122157357491
43Fremont, CA35.756736181381750
44Savannah, GA35.6104183423193190
45Cincinnati, OH35.5797153193495179
46Bridgeport, CT35.33501962124697
47Hialeah, FL35.325972245084180
48Louisville, KY35.17513715614840125
49Glendale, CA35.163213963591283
50Anaheim, CA35.076018148481163
51Miami, FL35.02241707240114177
52Omaha, NE34.8566512415476106
53Syracuse, NY34.82787567813152
54Santa Ana, CA34.744189108601103
55Tempe, AZ34.4327197276814429
56Buffalo, NY34.1822551291511887
57Mesa, AZ34.07312716916610829
58Lincoln, NE33.9553166112035119
59Orange, CA33.8310215118531853
59Atlanta, GA33.831281422236153153
61Santa Rosa, CA33.818618417644453
62Austin, TX33.78991944630102158
63St. Paul, MN33.76211141751261888
64Chicago, IL33.64121791108269113
65Paterson, NJ33.644502312591128
66Milwaukee, WI33.583954781235196
66Miramar, FL33.58195168141692180
68Newark, NJ33.5335987311954132
69Los Angeles, CA33.51361731872517328
70Akron, OH33.487724210263107
71Sacramento, CA33.37612981969426
72San Jose, CA33.3557100177833350
73Cleveland, OH33.1743123911095790
74Irvine, CA32.974746172106793
75Richmond, VA32.935810812551106131
76Spokane, WA32.847357321288659
77Naperville, IL32.7616397881161113
78Salem, OR32.656920142877264
79Pomona, CA32.6412611729541793
80Dayton, OH32.431084757768186
81Baltimore, MD32.43910410094105133
81Springfield, MO32.4871072575155122
83Des Moines, IA32.3389325011267121
83Spring Valley, NV32.33165157184692243
85McAllen, TX32.06158591445732165
86St. Louis, MO31.8837905295182120
87Philadelphia, PA31.7828149141101125117
88Vancouver, WA31.6871691431424160
89Worcester, MA31.4692114611352101
90Pembroke Pines, FL31.441471289232118180
91El Paso, TX31.4115131671531063
92Overland Park, KS31.3511114316511711102
93Escondido, CA31.231191721862615038
94Albuquerque, NM31.1895481278610766
95Baton Rouge, LA31.151167511515190193
96Knoxville, TN31.061851029637104118
96Ontario, CA31.0611270192461773
98St. Petersburg, FL30.8548849712990188
99Tacoma, WA30.838166879114370
100Lubbock, TX30.66314113614414680
101Tampa, FL30.52941417611062188
102Tulsa, OK30.45233882132187160
103Lakewood, CO30.4412353179995575
104Durham, NC30.4154105668483161
105Colorado Springs, CO30.17146131159569981
106Oxnard, CA30.1370192148135963
106Brownsville, TX30.13157355516030109
108Scottsdale, AZ30.091131968910710129
109Glendale, AZ30.02931627413413129
110Aurora, CO29.977543831915775
111Fort Wayne, IN29.88132129011510365
111Norfolk, VA29.888216111913379136
113Midland, TX29.831221401238911573
114Peoria, AZ29.81311604115211229
115Aurora, IL29.67766315319331113
116Gilbert, AZ29.591091321131816329
117Rancho Cucamonga, CA29.55101711621051643
118Raleigh, NC29.491537511810868161
119Laredo, TX29.4811041491978165
120San Diego, CA29.441151871736116538
121Cary, NC29.381567710316114161
122McKinney, TX29.361338311118015140
123Springfield, MA29.3383251091639782
124Chandler, AZ29.257913613517110829
125Toledo, OH29.24853016615673108
126Riverside, CA29.2190144164901833
127Phoenix, AZ28.971251951786613929
128San Bernardino, CA28.9245741821211883
129Detroit, MI28.53721777117713769
130Chula Vista, CA28.521351308014913738
130Virginia Beach, VA28.5212718915016527136
132Plano, TX28.436816512619656140
132Kansas City, MO28.43174795997141102
132Tallahassee, FL28.43149176579162199
135Metairie, LA28.3311414131114111191
136Sioux Falls, SD28.251302211715593126
137Rockford, IL28.221721316010487123
138Oklahoma City, OK28.211375245146167110
139Corona, CA27.9816492158981663
140Amarillo, TX27.8998273818918095
140Irving, TX27.89844558195124140
140Columbus, OH27.8910515615218846169
140Huntsville, AL27.8916689580176170
144Dallas, TX27.8491175138139136140
145Frisco, TX27.821431869818536140
146Cape Coral, FL27.81701637911860200
147Henderson, NV27.761481881551824943
148Houston, TX27.7380125106137160185
149Killeen, TX27.7118154371196158
150Greensboro, NC27.71604410293170150
151Chattanooga, TN27.64177809370175173
152San Antonio, TX27.63136129161122100165
153Newport News, VA27.61393410519261136
154Lancaster, CA27.5716831201381683
155Charlotte, NC27.431948868103122124
156Oceanside, CA27.371611691807317238
157Indianapolis, IN27.3314013812214312999
158Elk Grove, CA27.26142511961575326
159Augusta, GA2710342137150131196
160Murfreesboro, TN26.97190789464185155
161Fresno, CA26.93641858419418937
162Fort Worth, TX26.891509585147161140
163Macon, GA26.81199407055134175
164Stockton, CA26.74107916714018484
165Arlington, TX26.6912412660187154140
166Chesapeake, VA26.5216913315418444136
167Shreveport, LA26.51173117588194172
168Jackson, MS26.48197866953191176
169Palmdale, CA26.47182151471691303
170Wichita, KS26.46117101112179151154
171Mobile, AL26.41452114549200194
172Olathe, KS26.3189611991747102
173Port St. Lucie, FL26.2918010610416766187
174Santa Clarita, CA26.15152154193145893
175Thornton, CO26.0620039441757875
176Birmingham, AL26.05191375174198174
177North Las Vegas, NV26.031621931901597643
178Corpus Christi, TX25.91141182134172121134
179Winston-Salem, NC25.8819324121100174150
180Fayetteville, NC25.8178109130131152161
181Anchorage, AK25.641299318392156197
182Salinas, CA25.4914417418913013450
183Garland, TX25.4895152163199119140
184Montgomery, AL25.461796114141159178
185Fontana, CA25.24159871741901453
186Clarksville, TN25.1619610140127146155
187Modesto, CA25.091062316816819784
188Columbus, GA25.0118696132162126171
189Joliet, IL24.821841819416471113
190Moreno Valley, CA24.53187331981111813
191Memphis, TN24.46155171151136195112
192Little Rock, AR24.331924911617317174
193Pasadena, TX23.9612168191158158185
194Mesquite, TX23.69171155171178149140
195Jacksonville, FL23.66167110139170178195
196Kansas City, KS23.4418872107176192102
197Bakersfield, CA23.351388517018319962
198Sunrise Manor, NV22.371751982001982243
199Grand Prairie, TX21.87176121197186127140
200Enterprise, NV19.081982001952002243
Infrographic depicting the best and worst cities for a summer vaxcation

Highlights and Lowlights

Let’s Go to San Funcisco

The Golden City tops our ranking of the Best Cities for Your Summer Vaxcation and for good reason: San Francisco is the No. 1 city for having fun, offering the second-highest number of attractions and the most vibrant nightlife. 

At the time we looked, San Francisco also boasted the highest vaccination rate of any big city. (Seattle officially leads that race — for now — but San Francisco is co-blazing the trail.)

The best part? The Bay City is fully open as of June 15, with no holds barred but for “mega events.” So feel free to ditch the mask — except to get there and get around on public transit — but pack a sweatshirt or windbreaker. As Mark Twain may (or may not) have once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Fun in the Honolulu Sun

Looking for the best outdoor experience? Then say aloha to Honolulu. Hawaii’s capital ranks No. 6 overall but No. 2 for having fun and No. 1 for being outside. 

The only letdown: This Pacific paradise ranks No. 166 in the lodging category, due to below-average hotel ratings and relatively higher Airbnb prices. But no one really goes to Honolulu to stay out of the sun.

Just make sure to have your vaccination card (or proof of a negative COVID-19 test) handy: While The Big Pineapple outperforms 180 other big cities in vaccinations, Hawaii requires all visitors to be inoculated/show no symptoms or otherwise quarantine for 10 days. 

Neva Say Neva in Nevada

The Sin City metro lands on opposite ends of our ranking: Las Vegas sits in ninth place and Paradise in 11th, while Sunrise Manor finishes at a very distant 198 and Enterprise dead last. 

So be careful: Depending on which direction you’re heading, you could find yourself making good memories or having a lousy summer break in a matter of minutes. The good news is Nevada reopened at 100% capacity on June 1 (though private businesses can still require masks).

If you want to avoid mixed signals from Greater Vegas, consider driving northwest to Reno in 27th place. The Biggest Little City in the World is slightly sunnier (No. 4) than Vegas (No. 5), and it’s perfect for outdoor pleasure: There’s no shortage of camping sites (No. 17) or drinking holes.

Ask The Experts

Although the country is opening up for travel, trips obviously won’t be the same as in pre-pandemic times — not yet, at least. Some careful planning can go a long way.

We asked a panel of experts to help set expectations and share their best travel advice. See what they had to say below.

  1. What will summer travel look like this year?
  2. After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?
  3. What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?
Claire Stewart
Associate Professor, New York City College of Technology
Reginald Foucar-Szocki
Professor
Yi-Lin Tsai
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Lerner College of Business and Economics
Nizar “Nick” Hussein, GMS, MSA
Instructor and Internship Director-Hospitality Services Administration, Director of Corporate Relations-Professional Sales Program, College of Business Administration, Department of Marketing & Hospitality Services Administration
Laurie Salame, J.D.
Senior Lecturer II, Isenberg School of Management, Department of Hospitality and Tourism
Angela Durko, Ph.D.
Instructional Associate Professor, Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences
Heather Gibson, Ph.D.
Professor, Associate Director, Department of Tourism, Hospitality & Event Management, Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute
Benjamin Altschuler, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Academic Director of the Master of Travel, School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management and Tourism
Suiwen “Sharon” Zou, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism
Irem Onder, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Isenberg School of Management, Department of Hospitality & Tourism Management
Rajesh Balkrishnan, Ph.D.
Professor of Public Health Sciences and Clinical Professor of Nursing
Teri Capriotti, DO MSN CRNP RN
Clinical Professor, M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing
Rebecca S.B. Fischer, Ph.D. MPH DTMH
Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Professor, School of Public Health
Claire Stewart
Associate Professor, New York City College of Technology
The City University of New York

What will summer travel look like this year?

People are anxious to get away, and outdoor- or nature-oriented locations will be especially popular.

There will be a certain population that is looking to bust out after being cooped up. They will seek a raucous locale and be happy to be in crowds.

Others lost their jobs during the pandemic and may have limited funds. They will seek scaled-down trips, perhaps renting a cabin and cooking their own meals.

Of course, there will be others who just feel lucky to be alive and will bring out their credit card and plan that trip to Paris. There are multiple scenarios that will unfold this summer.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

Gas prices historically go up during the summer, and airfare rates will be tricky. Airlines have great losses from last year to make up for, but they also need to fill planes to be profitable. Booking early is important. Desirable rental properties will probably raise rates.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  1. Families with children who are unvaccinated still need to take precautions, yet there are many fun outdoor activities that kids can do safely, such as canoeing, rafting, and biking. If done in a novel location, these pursuits can be as exciting as more curated or “commercial” sites like crowded amusement parks.
  2. Have a back-up plan. Rental homes can cancel on you, and international travel especially can be subject to last-minute restrictions this summer. When you book anything — whether it be a hotel, house or flight — get information on cancellation fees, and buy insurance if possible. Consider double-booking if you are restricted to a certain date, making sure you can cancel one with no fees if necessary.
  3. Embrace adventure. Consider researching unusual places you would not ordinarily visit; look for bargains rather than have your mind set on one certain location.
Reginald Foucar-Szocki
Professor
James Madison University

What will summer travel look like this year?

Pent-up demand for travel, loss of many of the superstar hospitality and travel employees to other industries, higher prices across the board, and the “favorite vacation spots” for many of us are already booked. This will lead to a summer of new adventures and memories.

The uncertainty of the supply chain is a wildcard factor adding to this inflationary pressure. Everyone wants a New York Broadway Production for their summer vacation. Still, the industry in general is not ready, and expectations for a community theatre production are more realistic for the summer of 2021.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

Many people want to travel, especially by air this summer, but the seats are very limited, and as of today, all passengers must be inside the plane to fly. Add to this the ability to monitor every time a consumer logs in to check a date, location, and time, and the winner will be the airlines. They control supply and know the demand.

The consumer will continue to see “amazingly low prices” offered for a certain flight with tiny print saying some restrictions apply. This typically means a very limited number of seats are available for this price and could be only one day in the summer.

Again, the purpose of this super low price is to monitor demand — how many people want to fly where and when? Once this super low price is gone, additional seats will be available but at an increased price.

Again, the Co$t of the $ummer of 2021 for travel is going to be substantial. As one looks at the hotel industry, occupancy and demand are up over 75% for March to May, increasing costs per night.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  1. When thinking about a safe summer vacation, realize that the United States is not the world (related to COVID-19 and the percentage of the population vaccinated). So be safe, be prudent, and look to convention and visitors bureaus or city tourism websites for top-10 lists of things to do. Looking more local is one idea to have a memorable and economical summer of 2021. Pools, cookouts, family visits are another way to go.
  2. Find a theme, and plan a nontraditional vacation. One idea is an East Coast “Hall of Fame Trip” in Canton for football; Cleveland for rock ’n roll; National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York; and baseball in Cooperstown, New York. There are so many tourist sites that would enjoy hosting you and your family. The key is to plan lodging options and consider driving versus flying.
  3. Finally, your travels may not be perfect this summer, as this sleepy giant, the hospitality-tourism industry, awakes from a long nap. I would ask you for more patience, forgiveness to the staff, and I wish you a fantastic summer of memories.
Yi-Lin Tsai
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Lerner College of Business and Economics
University of Delaware

What will summer travel look like this year?

More and more people will feel safe to travel, thanks to vaccination, and more travel destinations will reopen. However, options for international travel may still be limited.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

We might be saying goodbye to the cheap summer tickets soon. However, it is still uncertain if the price will be back to the pre-pandemic level this summer. It depends on how fast the demand will pick up.

Given the business travels might take a long time to return, airlines may need to keep their fares competitive to attract leisure travelers.

Other travel costs to consider: rental car, because many suppliers have a shortage of vehicles.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  1. Plan in advance. Depending on the travel destinations, hours might differ, and advance ticket reservation may be required.
  2. Be flexible in the mode of travel. If you don’t feel comfortable about flying, why not take a road trip?
  3. Take extra care when traveling with children because vaccines are not available for all kids yet.
Nizar “Nick” Hussein, GMS, MSA
Instructor and Internship Director-Hospitality Services Administration, Director of Corporate Relations-Professional Sales Program, College of Business Administration, Department of Marketing & Hospitality Services Administration
Central Michigan University

What will summer travel look like this year?

I personally believe that summer travel will be up this summer. The airlines have already shared that passenger counts have increased by 77%, up from 29% last year.

I also believe people are exhausted and tired of being cooped up, which is going to motivate families to take trips and travel. Northern Michigan will be a hotspot for travel this year.

Families can spend some time in the great outdoors, and that is what we need right now. We need to be outdoors vacationing to relieve families of stress. I also believe families are technology-exhausted and want to turn it off.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

I see air travel fares increase based on supply and demand. Demand is going to increase, and supply will be limited, which we know will drive cost up.

The other increase is going to be gas for those who like to drive to their destinations. I see gas prices increase based on the same theory, the supply-and-demand curve.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  1. Get outside and enjoy the fresh air while signing off technology. We need to detox from all the technology that we were forced to embrace to survive the pandemic. I think the mind needs a fresh break.
  2. Do not be naïve and forget. We need to remember good old-fashioned hygiene: Wash often, and, if you are experiencing any symptoms, stay home. Stop the spread of any virus.
  3. Lastly, go stay at a resort, dine in a restaurant, and support your local hospitality industry. Many properties are operating with a shortage in staff. Please keep that in mind when your food takes a few extra minutes to prepare, or if your guest room is not ready at check-in, do not panic or yell at the staff members. We have a labor shortage, and the ones working do not deserve to be yelled at. Also do not forget: You are on a family vacation — have fun.
Laurie Salame, J.D.
Senior Lecturer II, Isenberg School of Management, Department of Hospitality and Tourism
University of Massachusetts-Amherst

What will summer travel look like this year?

Summer always brings increased levels of leisure travel, and this year will be no exception. Thanks to robust vaccination participation and the end of COVID-19 restrictions in markets across the country, consumer confidence in the safety of travel, combined with a desire to see friends and family after prolonged separation, means an active summer travel schedule for many.

Various industry organizations are reporting the upward trend in leisure travel (both ground and air) has started and expectations are high for the summer.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

Airlines and hotels rely on complex pricing strategies that take into account many factors, but an important one is supply and demand. When the demand for services is low, like during the pandemic, airlines and hotels have a high supply of their product and drop prices. But when we see increases in demand, as we are seeing this summer, prices go up. Many savvy consumers understand this and plan accordingly.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, according to the Congressional Research Service, some of the highest rates of unemployment during the pandemic were in the leisure and hospitality sector. There are still shifts occurring as workers continue to migrate to new jobs and new opportunities. Even with massive hiring efforts, many travel-and-tourism-related services are still working hard to staff up for the much anticipated high summer business volume; this could impact prices.

There are certainly ways to save money when planning a trip. Where possible, you can often get the best rates by booking early and being flexible with your travel dates, especially if you can travel during low-peak times. Look for packages that bundle several travel-related services (i.e. airfare, hotel, ground transportation, excursions), such as those organized by travel companies — this saves you money since the companies are able to purchase those services at a discount.

Last, do your homework and research what’s out there. If planning activities when you arrive, in competitive markets you can often find discount codes, coupons, membership discounts, and special deals when you reserve ahead of time. (Keep in mind that for some activities, you must book ahead of time — even when that didn’t use to be the case.)

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  1. Know what pandemic restrictions, if any, are still in effect for the activities you plan to enjoy, and be prepared to follow the rules.
  2. If there are unvaccinated children or adults in your travel party, you will want to continue to follow the same protocols as you did during the pandemic, such as masking and social distancing.
  3. For those who are fully vaccinated, trust the science! You may still be feeling some re-entry anxiety, but if you trusted the science when things were bad, continue to trust it now that things are better. While you have to establish your own comfort level, recognize that you deserve this time to reconnect with those you love, see the places you have been longing to visit, and relax and refresh your spirit after a very long year. So enjoy!
Angela Durko, Ph.D.
Instructional Associate Professor, Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences
Texas A&M University

What will summer travel look like this year?

  • Many are claiming this to be the “Summer of Missed Opportunities” with record high domestic travel numbers. However, with the high rising cost of gas, consumer products and services, this may be the summer of the “One and Only Family Trip” as expenses will add up quickly.
  • With labor shortages and high demand for services, patience and planning are needed for positive experiences with and for service industry providers.
  • Planning ahead will be essential. For those “on the fly, make a plan as I get there” travelers like me, planning ahead takes the fun out of the adventure. However, by not doing so, we may be stranded in high tourist locations without lodging, a rental car, or flight if bookings aren’t done at least several weeks in advance now.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

  • Airfare has been steadily increasing — up 10% since April for domestic travel and 17% for international fares.
  • Gas is at its highest since 2014. This impacts air travel as well, as consumers will pay a part of that cost in their ticket pricing. Airlines have a lot of lost revenue to make up for, and the positive improvements we saw during COVID making airfare ticket changes free or easy are gone. The benefit is back to the business, not the consumer.
  • With the high demand for travel and labor shortage, there will be sold-out hotels, attractions, rental homes, car rentals, and flights. This increase in demand will increase the cost to the consumer.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  • I believe the tips are the same for those vaccinated and those not vaccinated. Be responsible for your (and your family’s) health. Don’t travel and be around people if you are sick. Allow personal space when appropriate. We tend to overcrowd attractions, flights, beaches, and dining establishments to the point it’s not enjoyable. Keep up a healthy routine — don’t leave the hand sanitizer in the past. COVID isn’t the only reason to focus on cleanliness!
  • Respect the business’ operating protocols, or find another service to use. If they require a mask, wear one; if they require reservations, make them. Realize there are shortages of supplies and all amenities may not be available or the same as they were years ago. Many small businesses are doing all they can to make it through the lost year. Respect their hard work and what it takes for them to keep their doors open.
  • If possible, avoid the tourist-trap areas this summer. Try out new, away-from-the-masses vacation ideas. It’s obvious the popular beaches will be packed this summer, along with amusement parks and many national parks. Consider lesser-known but equally (if not more so) wonderful destinations like Block Island, Rhode Island; Beaufort, South Carolina; Hudson Valley, New York; Great Basin National Park, Nevada; or Ocras Island, Washington.
Heather Gibson, Ph.D.
Professor, Associate Director, Department of Tourism, Hospitality & Event Management, Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute
University of Florida

What will summer travel look like this year?

There is a lot of pent-up demand for travel this year. Some of the patterns will be the same as last year with people choosing standalone accommodations such as Airbnb. Others are continuing to use RVs and camp. The national parks are gearing up for another busy summer in this regard.

The big difference between last summer and this is travelers are returning to flying. We’ve already seen reports of the numbers of passengers on some days equaling those seen pre-pandemic. Many of the journeys will continue to be domestic, as there are still border restrictions for some popular countries such as the UK and Canada. Some of the European countries have opened to vaccinated U.S. travelers, so there is some travel overseas, but a lot of people have chosen to stay within the U.S.

Of course, in a few weeks we will also see more of the cruise ships embark on their first voyages since 2020. Again, there is pent-up demand among the avid cruisers.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

We seem to be in a period right now where many products, not just travel, are increasing in price. In the travel realm, prices have increased. I am not sure if we will see record prices, although already rental-car prices have reached some rates that we haven’t seen before.

Some indications show that prices are not just related to increased demand but also constrictions in the supply chain. It will take some sectors of the travel industry time to scale up again in terms of safety, certification, and training of their employees. While this occurs, just like the constricted supply chains in other product sectors we will see higher prices. Will these reach record prices? I am not sure. Will they be sustained? Again, this will also be related to demand as we go into the fall and winter.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

While fully vaccinated individuals do have more freedom, particularly as we see the rise in the Delta variant right now, we should still be mindful that we are not quite out of the woods yet. I would continue to enjoy activities outside, to continue the hygiene routines we have employed for the past 18 months, and to monitor your family’s health. There are several rapid tests that are available over the counter now that might be a good addition to a vacation first aid kit. So be safe, but have fun!

Benjamin Altschuler, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Academic Director of the Master of Travel, School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management and Tourism
Temple University

What will summer travel look like this year?

As we have already seen, summer travel is popular, but there is a caveat to this. While summer travel is already quite popular, not all summer destinations are going to experience the same level of success. Generally, those destinations and attractions that allow people to be outdoors and experience something exciting will benefit most this summer. We are already seeing examples of this. Our national parks are experiencing record-breaking numbers, and places such as Disney World and Orlando are quite popular. I believe we will continue to see this sort of pattern for the rest of the summer.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

Airfares are going up, but again, there is a caveat to this. Many prices seem high in relation to prices during the pandemic, but in many cases these prices are what we were paying in the pre-pandemic time.

In terms of airfare, I would be keeping an eye on the impact of labor shortages in the airline industry. Airlines such as American Airlines have had to cut flights due to the labor shortage, and if this continues, then this could push ticket costs higher as demand will outweigh supply.

The other big cost I am keeping an eye on is gas. We have already seen prices on gas tick upward. As more people take to traveling this summer, the issues with supply chains and greater demand are going to increase gas prices even higher.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

My first tip is stay off the beaten path. While I am starting to feel better in crowds, social distancing is still a great way to reduce the chance of getting COVID. At the same time, staying away from bigger destinations and attractions is going to lead to less crowds, which is always more fun in my opinion. For example, check out state parks instead of national parks…they are sometimes just as amazing, but a lot less people to contend with.

My second tip, which I think is pretty obvious, but bears repeating is stay outdoors. The U.S. has so many incredible outdoor experiences, and as we have learned, being outdoors goes a long way towards reducing the chance of contracting COVID.

Finally, try different forms of accommodations. Maybe try a camping trip, or renting an RV. These alternative forms of accommodations often lead to unique experiences you may have never considered, and again, will keep more socially distant from other people. Personally, I love packing up the car with my family, and finding unique places to setup our tent and camping gear. While this may prevent you from taking a shower for a couple days, there is something truly amazing about camping away from the crowds!

Suiwen “Sharon” Zou, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

What will summer travel look like this year?

The travel industry needs to be prepared for a busy summer as people feel more comfortable taking a vacation that is long overdue. However, travelers are likely to prefer non-urban and nature/outdoor destinations, such as national/state parks and beaches. Road trips will be popular. Most summer travel will remain domestic, and international travel will not rebound as quickly as domestic travel.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

I expect a significant increase in airfares because 1) demand is picking up; 2) airlines, like any other industries, are facing staffing shortages and need to pay overtime or offer a higher salary to fill the needs; and 3) inflation drives supply costs up. These may also cause prices of other travel sectors (e.g., hotels, short-term vacation homes, rental cars, and restaurants) to rise.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  1. Research and follow state and local COVID requirements and recommendations. Some states have strict requirements to get in (e.g., Hawaii).
  2. Plan and book early to guarantee a spot and lower travel costs. A lot of restaurants may require reservations due to COVID protocol and limited capacity.
  3. Go off the grid: Don’t check emails, and turn off your phone/laptop.
Irem Onder, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Isenberg School of Management, Department of Hospitality & Tourism Management
University of Massachusetts

What will summer travel look like this year?

I believe individuals would prefer to have domestic travels instead of international ones. One reason is the high prices of flights due to fewer available flights and low demand. On the other hand, individuals would want to be closer to home so that if something happens again, such as a lockdown due to a pandemic, they can go back home easily.

Since it is summer, lots of outdoor activities, such as going to the beach and hiking in nature, would be the preferred activities. Also, due to the pandemic, many celebrations, such as weddings, honeymoons, and family reunions were postponed, and this summer these events will be more than what we used to have before.

Many individuals may prefer to rent on Airbnb or similar accommodation-sharing platforms because they can choose ones that are isolated or in less crowded areas. I believe some people would still be hesitant to go to overcrowded areas. This depends on the age of the person and their willingness to take risks.

After a year of record-low prices, airfares are rising again because of the strong rebound in travel. Do you expect fare prices to reach record highs this summer? Why or why not? What other travel costs do you expect to rise, if any?

The prices will not be record high because of the economic situation of consumers. If the prices are too high, then the demand will be lower.

I still believe that prices will rise but will not be record high. It can be a record high for the pandemic time but not the most expensive prices ever.

Travel-insurance prices may increase if individuals choose an insurance type that covers pandemic-related issues, such as lockdowns or travel restrictions. This could be more obvious for international travel.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  1. Spend more time outside, and enjoy the weather.
  2. Keep social-distancing with others who didn’t get vaccinated yet.
  3. Check the travel destination’s regulations and rules that may affect your trip, such as mandatory quarantine at a hotel, etc.
Rajesh Balkrishnan, Ph.D.
Professor of Public Health Sciences and Clinical Professor of Nursing
University of Virginia

What will summer travel look like this year?

We should expect a lot of travel this year. Many of us are feeling cooped up and, with some of the pandemic travel restrictions easing, cannot wait to head out of our homes and have some fun in the sun.

However, we still need to exercise caution as we have not yet reached optimal vaccination levels to reach herd immunity. Thus following some of the precautions we started following during the pandemic is essential to enjoyment of our summer vacations.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vacation?

My top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vacation are:

1. Follow some of the pandemic precautions like maintaining six-feet distance from people whom you are not familiar with. Carrying hand sanitizers and masks with you and using them in areas where you are not certain are important.

2. Be kind, polite, and courteous to people around you. Everyone has been through a lot in the past year and a half, and we do not want to add to this burden.

3. Get vaccinated if you have not already. The vaccine is safe and effective and our biggest weapon to keep ourselves and the people around us safe and healthy.

As life slowly returns to normal in the U.S., the issue of mask wearing remains contentious: Some experts advocate wearing masks even after the pandemic ends, while others argue that normalizing no masks would engender trust in vaccine efficacy and therefore encourage more people to get vaccinated. What’s your take?

My take is to keep masks handy, especially while traveling, and use them in areas where you are not certain, especially in crowded public places even if you are fully vaccinated.

What advice would you give to people who are skeptical about COVID-19 vaccines?

Please dismiss any fear you may be harboring about the vaccine. The vaccine is completely safe and effective. It is the best means of protecting yourself and your loved ones. If you have not got it already, you truly owe this to yourself and to contributing toward a healthy, pandemic-free society and life for all of us.

Teri Capriotti, DO MSN CRNP RN
Clinical Professor, M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing
Villanova University

What will summer travel look like this year?

If you are fully vaccinated, you can travel safely to areas in the U.S. However, there are areas in the world where COVID 19 transmission is still very high. The CDC has a list of areas where they advise restricted travel — areas are categorized into “high rate of COVID incidence” to “low rate of COVID incidence.”

If unvaccinated, you need to be extremely cautious as COVID 19, especially the variant strain, is highly contagious and can cause serious illness. The unvaccinated traveler should consult the CDC guidelines; mask wearing and six-foot social-distancing is advisable. Travel without a vaccination should be limited. Again, see the CDC guidelines.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

  • Get fully vaccinated.
  • Wash hands, or use sanitizer that is at least 60% ethyl alcohol frequently.
  • Sneeze or cough into your arm sleeve.
  • Avoid crowds; there are still many in our population who are unvaccinated.
  • When using public transportation, wear a mask.
  • It is best to travel with those who are vaccinated or those within your own household.
  • Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings.
  • If you feel ill, get COVID testing, and avoid others while sick.

As life slowly returns to normal in the U.S., the issue of mask wearing remains contentious: Some experts advocate wearing masks even after the pandemic ends, while others argue that normalizing no masks would engender trust in vaccine efficacy and therefore encourage more people to get vaccinated. What’s your take?

See the above. If fully vaccinated, I still would use a mask if in large crowds or using public transportation.

What advice would you give to people who are skeptical about COVID-19 vaccines?

I think there has been enough experience with both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to show that they are safe. You need two doses. The COVID-19 variant is now circulating and seems to be more virulent, more transmissible, and causes serious illness. With the vaccines mentioned above. it appears that you can have some level of protection from serious illness should you contract the variant.

Rebecca S.B. Fischer, Ph.D. MPH DTMH
Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Professor, School of Public Health
Texas A&M University

What will summer travel look like this year?

I expect that lots of us are itching to get out and enjoy some summer fun and make up for a year of caution and quarantine. For many, though, these activities this summer could look different than before.

I think we will see a lot of outdoor activities. Getting outdoors is a great option, in terms of getting in some fun while still being smart about COVID-19. Choosing outdoors over indoors wherever possible makes it harder for the virus to survive — if it does infiltrate your activity. I’m picturing camping, hiking, beaches, boardwalks, lake trips, small-town excursions.

I also suspect we are going to see family groups meeting up for quality time. Gathering in small groups is also smart, since we might have some control over our risk levels with respect to whom we are around. Sure, we will see visits to theme parks, music festivals, and other big events again. But I expect that many will adopt a summer theme of reconnecting, in person, with our core circles.

Personally, I’ve been dreaming of a peaceful cabin in the woods, on a lake, where I can get back to nature and enjoy some peace and quiet. Then again, like many others in the COVID-19 response, I have had a very active and eventful past year with very little downtime, so unplugging sounds delightful. I’m also craving to see friends and family that I’ve only seen on Zoom, if at all, in the past 16 months, so I’m looking forward to getting together — but not with everyone right away, and not all at once.

What are your top three tips for enjoying a fun yet safe summer vaxcation?

1. Get vaccinated! Follow the WHO and CDC recommendations to be vaccinated if you can. Remember that vaccines can’t keep us from being exposed to the virus, and we don’t yet know that the vaccines can effectively block even transient infections, which means everyone should be careful when around unvaccinated individuals until we can bring this pandemic to a close.

If you aren’t vaccinated, continue to protect yourself and everyone around you by doing all the things we know to block the movement of viruses between us. Vaccines are never 100%, but they sure are good — and the best tool we have now to keep us out of the hospitals and around to see more summers to come.

2. Let’s be smart about how we travel. Travel is still how this virus moves around the community, nation, and across the globe. It is how variants move through a population, so it does pose some risk to us and to people we meet along the way. (I wrote a short piece in The Conversation about this.)

I know it’s hard to hear, but we are still in a pandemic and public health emergency. This just means that whatever we do, we should be aware of the associated risks that could expose someone to SARS-CoV-2, since every exposure carries the possibility of severe disease, hospitalization, or death.

How can we travel safely? Personal transportation is safe. Travel with others in your circle or who share similar risk comfort levels. Gather with vaccinated folks and use precautions around others. In some places, vaccination rates are still very low, so when in public spaces, maintaining distancing is still recommended. Avoid areas where there are outbreaks or where transmission remains high.

3. Be kind and respectful to others. Respect that others may wish to remain cautious with respect to COVID-19. Support their use of masks, vaccination decisions, and gathering choices. Try not to judge harshly others who throw caution to the wind. Some decisions have quite personal roots, and we don’t always know or understand why people choose what they do. Let’s stamp out stigma and help each other make good choices. Anxiety and stress levels are high still, so let’s use compassion during these dynamic times. I like to think that as we are respectful and caring, we can make a more enjoyable summer for all.

The bottom line is that if we are smart and considerate in our plans, we can exhale and enjoy.

As life slowly returns to normal in the U.S., the issue of mask wearing remains contentious: Some experts advocate wearing masks even after the pandemic ends, while others argue that normalizing no masks would engender trust in vaccine efficacy and therefore encourage more people to get vaccinated. What’s your take?

From a public health standpoint, there is always a use for masks when there is an infectious disease that can be spread in the way SARS-CoV-2 is. We routinely use masks in hospitals and other clinical settings for this exact reason. We regularly use masks with other diseases, too, such as tuberculosis.

So reaching for the mask if an outbreak pops up in your immediate circle or more widespread in your community might be in order. It might sound strange to keep a mask in your medicine cabinet — two years ago, very few of us would have guessed that would be useful — but masks are a good barrier to respiratory spread and will remain a tool in any ongoing or recurrent battle against this virus.

That being said, widespread mask use would not be necessary in areas where the virus has been eliminated or well contained. I think we all have that to look forward to.

What advice would you give to people who are skeptical about COVID-19 vaccines?

Having questions about vaccines is normal, and thinking critically about our health decisions is smart. For answers, look to the good and reliable information sources, such as the American Society of Virology, which has been hosting online Town Halls where the public can talk to real experts.

These mRNA vaccines are some of the best ever, in terms of safety and efficacy, and are hugely successful at keeping people out of the hospital and alive. If you have already recovered from infection, vaccination is still recommended since it’s not clear if natural immunity offers as broad or robust protection as the vaccines do.

And if you aren’t vaccinated for any reason, you should still be keeping a safe and responsible physical distance from others, keep up the hand washing and cough hygiene, and avoid gathering with others indoors whenever possible.

Methodology

We ranked the 200 largest U.S. cities from best (No. 1) to worst (No. 200) based on their overall scores (out of 100 possible points), averaged across the weighted metrics below.

Vaccination rates were collected on June 9. For the most current rates, please see The New York Times’ county and state COVID-19 vaccination tracker. National and state rates also are available from the CDC.

MetricWeightingMin. ValueMax. ValueBest
Getting Around
Per-Kilometer Taxi Rate1$0.78$3.73Min. Value
Walk Score31398Max. Value
Bike Score32497Max. Value
Pedestrian Fatalities per 100,000 Residents107.67Min. Value
Lodging
Average Hotel Rating205Max. Value
Average Daily Airbnb Rate1$58.50$524.50Min. Value
Dining and Drinking
Restaurants per 100,000 Residents2116.843,329.08Max. Value
Cocktail Bars per 100,000 Residents2028.14Max. Value
Lounges per 100,000 Residents2020.33Max. Value
Average Cost of Restaurant Meal1$7.00$23.50Min. Value
Average Price of Beer at a Restaurant1$2.50$8.25Min. Value
Average Price of Bottle of Wine1$6.25$20.00Min. Value
Having Fun
Number of Attractions331,290Max. Value
Tours per 100,000 Residents20.39161.16Max. Value
Festivals per 100,000 Residents2056.58Max. Value
Water Parks per 100,000 Residents202.35Max. Value
Public Gardens per 100,000 Residents202.69Max. Value
Number of Trails21235Max. Value
Number of Camping Sites20128Max. Value
Average Yard Size (in Square Feet)22,744 sq. ft.23,951 sq. ft.Max. Value
Shopping Centers and Department Stores per 100,000 Residents20.4445.71Max. Value
Music Venues per 100,000 Residents2015.1Max. Value
Dance Clubs per 100,000 Residents2014.4Max. Value
Staying Safe
Vaccination Rate (as of June 9, 2021)322%62%Max. Value
Natural Hazards Index2920Min. Value
Crime Index2088Max. Value
Being Outside
Average Monthly Summer Temperature156.9 degrees F93.07 degrees FMax. Value
Average Monthly Summer Rain (in Inches)10.039.76Min. Value
Average Monthly Percentage of Summer Sunshine141.33%95.67%Max. Value
Average Number of Very Hot Days in Summer1091Min. Value

Sources: AllTrails, AllTheRooms, American Public Gardens Association, ArbNet, Everfest, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NeighborhoodScout, The New York Times, TripAdvisor, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Walk Score, and Yelp

Why This Study Matters

It’s what many of us anxiously have been waiting for: the chance to travel again — even if our destination hasn’t fully reopened yet.

In New York City, for example, there’s loads to see and do, but most Broadway shows won’t be back until September. Sure, San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge, but its iconic cable cars won’t be moving again until August and won’t return to full service until September. 

Even your beach getaway may not be what you expected. Corpus Christi, Texas, like some other beach cities, still requires social distancing while catching rays or building sandcastles. 

But after months of lockdowns, 14 days of quarantine (for some of us), and more than a year of social distancing and working from home, we’re ready to visit our families, eat pizza in our hometowns, and just chillvax on the beach.

Never again will we take for granted “the ability to travel freely,” one of the top three luxuries that U.S. adults missed the most about pre-pandemic life. 

Whatever will make you feel alive again, our ranking of the Best Cities for Your Summer Vaxcation had you in mind. Enjoy your summer of vaccinated freedom — but bring along plenty of masks, as you’ll need them on planes, trains, and cars (Uber, Lyft, and taxis).

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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