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FEATUREBy Jordan RaneStay stateside this summer Who says a far-out summer vacation requires a far-flung destination? In fact, sometimes the best discoveries are right in your relative neck of the woods. To inspire such re-thinking this season, here are three very happening holiday-friendly cities for your consideration, each paired with an equally summer-spectacular town within easy striking distance.EAST COASTBoston — and Newport, Rhode IslandA few years ago, U.S. News and World Report ranked Boston as the country’s top summer vacation spot (and third in the world after Paris and Florence). This, of course, was no surprise to proud Bostonians. It’s also welcome news for summer visitors struck by the bevy of A-list lineup of attractions, which include seeing Fenway Park, riding the Swan Boats at Boston Public Garden, people-watching at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, scoping out Boston’s pick of world-famous museums and art galleries, tony college campuses and down-home lobster roll joints, and walking the 2.5 mile red brick-lined Freedom Trail from Boston Common through one of the nation’s most historic towns. That’s just the start, but it’s a solid opener in an officially blue-ribbon summer town. For another classic vacay slice of New England, head 80 miles south to Newport, Rhode Island. Once the exclusive fair-weather colony of 19th-century industrialist A-listers whose opulent oceanfront “cottages” (i.e. mega-mansions) turned this town into the nation’s poshest patch of shore, Newport has long since evolved into a casually glamorous, waffle cone-friendly coastal escape for the rest of us — replete with flawless beaches, seaside hiking and biking, one-of-a-kind mansion tours run by the Preservation Society of Newport County, and a pair of the nation’s top outdoor music events — the Newport Folk Festival (July 23-25) and Newport Jazz Festival (July 30-Aug. 1), both due to re-emerge at Fort Adams State Park after COVID-19 cancellations in 2020.MIDDLE AMERICAFort Collins — and Steamboat Springs, ColoradoJust 40 miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, Fort Collins is the perfect launch pad for more Northern Colorado scenic beauty than visitors can absorb in a single visit or season. Complicating matters is the casual seductiveness of the city itself — especially during summer when charming Old Town FoCo’s surplus of indie shops, superb restaurants, zany-named brewpubs (Pour Brothers, Illegal Pete’s, Avuncular Bob’s Beerhouse, etc.), and adjacent outdoor recreation zones like Horsetooth Reservoir will keep NoCo vacationers happily town-bound for days.
Our favorite summer drive from here winds through the gorgeous river gorges of Cache la Poudre Canyon along scenic byway Hwy. 14. Keep heading west into Rocky Mountain country and the fabled ranching community and “Ski Town USA” polestar of Steamboat Springs welcomes you with as much magnetism in July and August as it does during ski season.
Start with a mosey along historic Lincoln Avenue with its bougey art galleries, all-organic cafés, and must-visit F.M. Light & Sons western emporium (“Outfittin’ the West for over 100 Years”). Ride a raft or inner tube along the not-so-lazy Yampa River, which rolls straight through downtown. Then end a perfect day with a summer evening’s bask in Steamboat’s fabled hot springs at Strawberry Park, an idyllic natural amphitheater in the hills brimming with steamy natural pools amidst rustling aspens.WEST COAST Los Angeles — and Laguna Beach, CaliforniaMore than any other sprawling metropolis sporting this many area codes, freeways and neighborhoods brimming with broad global influences, Los Angeles defies definition, let alone recognizable urban boundaries. All the better for carving out your own singular summer experience here. Or, better yet, several mini ones. Whether you’ve landed in the City of Angels to finally hike up to the Hollywood sign, track down your favorite star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, sample the latest “it” Downtown LA eatery or people-watch in Venice Beach while wobbling on rented rollerblades, you’ll want to pace yourself and savor the ride. Factor in extra time for at least an exterior glimpse of some of the country’s top cultural and architectural edifices spread across the city, including the Getty Center and Villa, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Hollywood Bowl and Griffith Observatory. LA's wild, rugged backdrop of sage-covered slopes, oaky canyons, tidepooled beaches and hallowed Will Rogers polo grounds sporting more than 500 miles of hiking trails is collectively known as the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and is exactly what it looks like — the largest urban national park in the world.
Part 2 of this SoCal sojourn: Cruising out of LA to your choice of also-famous nearby attractions available at every compass point. East to Big Bear and Palm Springs. North to Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez wine country and Big Sur. West to Catalina Island or Channel Islands National Park. These are all worthy directions. But the quickest endless-summer fix of all will lead you south into neighboring Orange County’s aptly dubbed Riviera, featuring a string of alluring seaside villages culminating in the artist community of Laguna Beach. Lined with boutiques, galleries, cafes, a pretty boardwalk and miles of flawless sand, Laguna is one big summer draw. It’s biggest draw of all this season — and one of the nation’s longest running art happenings — is The Festival of Arts & Pageant of the Masters (July 7-Sept. 3).STAYCATION APPRECIATION If summer travel isn’t in the cards, holidaying at home is a real option with some creativity and mindset adjustment. Start with this three-step staycation primer.Bring your A-way game: Remember, this is a real vacation — not an extended weekend at home in flimsy disguise. Getting into holiday mode with the same spirit you would for any trip is crucial and will safeguard your family against the easy risk of falling back into regular life. Don’t forget to tell everyone (preferably via auto-response) that you’re gone and to rule out using this special time to finally clean the garage.
Plan an itinerary: It doesn’t have to be a rigid hour-by-hour thing, but there’s no winging it when it comes to creating a fun out-of-home experience while at home. If your house was suddenly a homey-looking hotel suite and your hometown was a place your family is visiting for the first time, how would you play it? Think it through, plot it out, get everyone’s input, have fun with it, fake it ’til you make it and don’t rule out any crazy ideas (e.g. pitching a tent in your living room) to make it memorably your own.
Go (somewhere) wild: Most neighborhoods are closer to some shockingly beautiful slice of nature than we knew. A state park campsite. A canoe on a river. A hiking trail. An apple farm. A mountain drive. Wherever it leads you, the great outdoors remains one of the greatest perspective busters within your grasp (and budget) for kids of all ages.Jordan Rane is an award-winning travel writer and a contributing editor of Men’s Journal. He’s been vacationing in LA for the last 25 years.