In life, being in the right place at the right time is often due to serendipity, but in travel, it almost always results from good planning. To avoid crowds and inflated prices, venture out between high and low seasons when the weather is fine, destinations are still welcoming travelers, and you can explore a locale at your own pace. We call this magical intersection of time and space the Sweet Spot and make it a point to round up the best of them for you each season. We've covered the 20 best places to travel for value this summer and grouped them by region – follow the links to the right to discover this season's Sweet Spots.
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United States & Canada
Summer Forecast: The ceremonial removal of pool covers across America signifies the beginning of sunshine, vacations, and festivals galore. From Yellowstone to Acadia, national parks leap into high season, and blazing temperatures across the Southwest prompt mass migrations to favorite seaside haunts along the coasts and on the Great Lakes. A broad band of climatic perfection wraps itself around Canada, opening up the Rockies for warm(er)-weather recreation.
1. HOUSTON, TEXAS
Texas is much more than old oil money and cowboy hats. Instead, tuxedos and jeans cohabitate in Houston, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., known for its museums and impressive architecture – it’s also home to the world’s largest rodeo, NASA headquarters, and four major sports teams.
Why Go In Summer: High temps make Houston super steamy in July and August, but by the last few weeks of summer in early September, the mugginess has worn down some (though temps can still linger in the high 80s), tourist crowds remain comparatively light, and hotel deals abound. Activities are also abuzz, with plenty of baseball games, farmer’s markets, and gallery and museum exhibits scheduled.
Summer 2013 Events: Houston Pride Festival & Parade (June 21–30); Houston CaribFest (June 29–July 4); Houston International Jazz Festival (Aug. 2–4)
2. LAKE TAHOE, NEVADA
Nestled among the Sierra Nevada's 10,000-foot peaks, North America's highest and largest alpine lake straddles two states and ranks as the country's second-deepest swimming hole. The lake merits its indigenous Washoe name – Tahoe, or "Lake of the Sky" – but it’s also thought of as a Las Vegas-in-the-mountains, serving as a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and casino fans alike.
Why Go In Summer: With almost no precipitation in the summer, it's prime time to snag a vacant mountainside cabin or drop a tent stake in one of several national forests. End of summer is best, as high-altitude areas can be covered with snow into mid-July.
Summer 2013 Events: Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival (July 12–Aug. 25); SummerFest Concerts (Aug. 2–18)
3. PALM BEACH, FLORIDA
Ever since Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway arrived in Palm Beach in 1894, this barrier isle north of Miami (on the state’s eastern coast) has basked in its reputation as a winter resort for the wealthy. Also worth exploring: the 37 surrounding municipalities of Palm Beach County, a mixture of cool urban sophistication and vintage Florida beach-town charm. Head here to soak up sun in the storied playground of Rockefellers and Kennedys amid oceanfront mansions, tony shops, and PGA golf courses.
Why Go In Summer: The visitors' bureau calls it "value season" for a reason; this is the time for deals on accommodations, attractions, and green fees. There are still sunny days, but far fewer people enjoying them. Just be forewarned that the summer months also coincide with the rainy/hurricane season, which may very well throw a wrench in sun-dependent plans.
Summer 2013 Events: Founder’s Day at the Flagler Museum (June 5)
4. SAVANNAH, GEORGIA
Georgia’s first city, Savannah has been welcoming guests with Southern hospitality since 1733. Uniquely historic and shamelessly social, the expansive street grids of this Spanish moss-draped city offer a wide variety of heritage, culinary, and entertainment experiences for any traveler.
Why Go In Summer: In August and September, trolleys begin to slow as the summer heat and humidity tame the travelers. Or, think pre-Halloween treat: touted as one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah embraces its historical spooks with gaslight tours and events, exploring topics like Victorian spiritualism.
Summer 2013 Events: “Sarah Frost: Arsenal” at Telfair Museums (through Sept. 22); Blues, Jazz, and BBQ on the River (May 31–June 2)
5. SEDONA, ARIZONA
This small Arizona town – a hodgepodge of artists, mystics, outdoorsmen, and well-off retirees – draws some 3.5 million visitors annually. Sedona is equally popular for its inspiring red-rock landscape and proximity to the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest as it is for resorts, eclectic shops, fine dining, and spiritual enrichment.
Why Go In Summer: Although temperatures can be quite hot, you'll find better deals on lodging and have lots of warm, sunny days with low humidity for your outdoor activities. Daytime temperatures are usually above 90 degrees, so plan your most active outings in the morning or late afternoon.
Summer 2013 Events: Red Rocks Music Festival (Aug. 23–Sept. 8)
6. TAMPA, FLORIDA
The Tampa Bay area delivers a triple threat of tropical charm: St. Petersburg and Clearwater win over guests with 35 miles of powder-white beaches, unspoiled barrier islands, and a vibrant arts scene, while convention-minded bayside neighbor Tampa adds urban moxie and theme park thrills.
Why Go In Summer: Inviting ocean temperatures counteract the 80-degree heat and there are great vacation deals to be had, though with school out you'll have to battle for them. Hotels sell out over the Independence Day and Labor Day holidays.
Summer 2013 Events: “Faded Elegance: Photographs of Havana by Michael Eastman” at the Tampa Museum of Art (through Sept. 15); “The Language of Jewelry” at the Henry B. Plant Museum (through Oct. 8)
7. TELLURIDE, COLORADO
Historic Telluride, a one-time silver mining town, is located high in the craggy San Juan Mountains. Year-round, visitors are drawn to its quaint, rough-and-tumble charm, especially in the preserved historic district where most buildings date back to the late 1800s. During the winter, skiers pack the town’s lavish resorts; during the summer, people come for the weekly music and film festivals.
Why Go In Summer: After the snow melts, sunshine fills the valley and rafting, ballooning, fishing, and hiking become the activities du jour. Diehard skiers will ship out, taking peak rates with them.
Summer 2013 Events: Telluride Wine Festival (June 27–30); Telluride Jazz Celebration (Aug. 2–4)
8. WHISTLER, CANADA
Canada's top winter resort boasts truly tremendous powder, which is why Whistler was host to most of the ski events during 2010’s Winter Olympic Games. While skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling lure snowhounds here in the winter, mountain biking, hiking, and spa-going draw summer-sun seekers.
Why Go In Summer: Take advantage of lighter crowds, substantially cheaper hotel prices, and pleasant temperatures in the 70s. Rugged outdoor adventures and downtime in spas make for a perfect vacation pairing.
Summer 2013 Events: ArtWalk (July 1–Aug. 31)
Caribbean & Mexico
Summer Forecast: Resort vacations in the Caribbean are a tempting proposition during the early hurricane season months (June and July) for value-minded travelers, especially if you’re lucky enough to find a refund guarantee. Book a near-sure bet outside the hurricane belt in the Southern Caribbean, where equatorial sun meets steel drums and low-season rates. It’s Mexico’s rainy season, which is marked by a chili-pepper heat – plan to keep one toe on the coast and another in the cooler, interior highlands. Many locals take advantage of school vacation to fit in most of their traveling, so expect company in resort areas.
For years one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets, tiny Anguilla – with its powder-white-sand beaches, gourmet restaurants, luxury resorts, and super villas – has become an essential island-hop for the rich and fashionable. Still, the island has retained its local flavor – for now – and remains accessible to those with lesser means.
Why Go In Summer: It's a budget-breaker most of the year, but come summer, average temperatures remain in the 80s and prices are slashed by up to 50 percent. The beginning of the rainy season jump-starts island greenery, and divers enjoy the year's best underwater visibility.
Summer 2013 Events: Constitution Day (Aug. 5)
10. CANCUN, MEXICO
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico, Cancún’s white-sand beaches, poolside bars, and all-inclusive mega-resorts accommodate every budget. While the city has a reputation as spring break central, the miles of pristine beaches here will satisfy partyers and serenity seekers alike.
Why Go In Summer: If you can handle the humidity, you’ll be rewarded by fewer crowds and great deals at luxury hotels. Temperatures regularly reach above 85 degrees, making an ocean dip all the more rewarding. While hurricane season officially begins in June, Cancún is not especially prone to the storms until fall.
Summer 2013 Events: Whale Shark Festival (July 11–14); Isla Mujeres Founding Day (Aug. 17)
This sparsely populated Lesser Antilles island, situated between Guadeloupe and Martinique, lacks the mega-resorts that dominate other Caribbean islands. Tropical forest covers two-thirds of the island, with mountainous terrain intersected by waterfalls and thermal springs. Far better known for hiking and diving than for beach activities, the 290-square-mile island is a paradise for nature lovers.
Why Go In Summer: In July, you can nab good deals on accommodations and the weather should still be nice – the heaviest storms of hurricane season usually don’t hit here until August. Plus, the island’s annual Dive Fest that month brings plenty of special events with it, as well as off-season discounts on activities like whale-watching and scuba diving.
Summer 2013 Event: Dominica Dive Fest (July 5–14)
12. TURKS & CAICOS
Revered as one of the last Caribbean frontiers, the Turks and Caicos islands lay just 3 hours from the East Coast, making them one of the closest destinations to reach from the U.S. What’s more, the main island, Providenciales (known as Provo), is home to one of the best beaches in the entire region: Grace Bay. As if that weren’t enough incentive for a visit, the islands here are also protected by the third-largest coral reef system in the world, creating superb turquoise waters for miles. The chain’s other islands, Parrot Cay and Grand Turk, offer even more exclusive retreats.
Why Go In Summer: Achingly beautiful turquoise coves bordered by smooth white beaches are the perfect place to savor this island country's 90-degree summer temps. Some travelers avoid the heat, keeping room rates manageable and giving snorkelers plenty of breathing room. While hurricane season is a concern, most storms steer clear of the islands until autumn.
Summer 2013 Events: Eco Sea-Swim “Race for the Conch” (July 6)
13. U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS
The American flag flies over the U.S. Virgin Islands, but the breeze blows with a Caribbean soul. Head here to encounter an island trio boasting fantastic diving (St. Thomas), historical sights (St. Croix), and extraordinary Trunk Bay Beach (St. John) – with sun, sand, and sea the hands-down biggest attractions across the board.
Why Go In Summer: Summer brings honeymooners and families drawn by lower rates and temperatures that seldom hit 90. The weather is pleasant, but expect some showers. Savvy visitors can find plenty of deals.
Summer 2013 Events: St. John Festival (June 1–30); Mango Melee and Tropical Fruit Festival (July 7); U.S. Virgin Islands Lifestyle Festival (July 18–21)
Summer Forecast: If you can stomach the cost of airfare, Europe glows during its celebrated summer months. The cafés are abuzz late into the night, northern Scandinavia gets nine months worth of cabin fever out of its system beneath a sun that never sets, and resort towns from Spain’s Costa Brava to Mykonos are flooded with Mediterranean sun-worshippers. Hike among alpine flowers or take in an outdoor concert to claim your very own Sound of Music moment.
In the heart of Western Europe, Switzerland is the epicenter of the Alps. Famous for its political isolation and self-sufficiency, the country offers a wealth of activities year-round. Visitors are drawn by the majesty of the Alps, naturally, plus cheese and chocolate, hiking, history, and skiing.
Why Go In Summer: Though summer marks the high season for Swiss lakeside resorts and cities like Zurich, it’s a great time to snag bargains at dedicated ski resorts like Gstaad, Verbier, and Zermatt. These ski-centric locales have come to embrace year-round outdoor opportunities like climbing, mountain biking, and golfing – all of which can be enjoyed under the summer sun, minus the maddening winter crowds (and inflated hotel rates). For even more bang for your buck on airfare and hotel rates, travel on summer’s fringes in June or September.
Summer 2013 Events: Art Basel (June 13–16); Zurich Festival (Aug. 29–Sept. 1); Fête de Genève (July 18–Aug. 11)
Central & South America
Summer Forecast: Winter rains in Venezuela supercharge the flow of Angel Falls, while drier, cooler norms prompt rainforest celebrations, most notably in Manaus. The gems of the Andes, especially the Inca sites throughout Peru, are bombarded with travelers during a noticeable dry season, but average temps in the 30s keep Patagonia reserved for luxury lodgers and the hardiest outdoor-folk. Early rainy season trips to the rain forests of Costa Rica offer low-season value and lush foliage, and surfers eagerly ride building Pacific swells.
Bordered by both the Caribbean and Pacific, this Central American nation’s name fittingly translates to “surrounded by water.” Known for its abundant beaches (any type you’d like: white-sand or wild, ready for relaxation or rife with riptides), it’s also marked by a geological fault line that’s helped to conjure some 24 volcanoes, seven of which are still alive and booming (most can be hiked). Explore the rain forest, observe freshwater sharks in Lake Nicaragua, and take advantage of bargain stays in this growing ecotourism market.
Why Go In Summer: From volcano-top cloud forests to sea turtle-approved beaches, the variations of this Central American paradise offer great thrills for bargain rates. Beat heavy September rains along the Pacific coast with a fringe-season surf trip, or travel inland to hike an inactive crater.
Summer 2013 Event: Fiesta Day or “Toro Guaco” (Aug. 1)
16. RIO DE JANEIRO
Rio de Janeiro is guaranteed to overwhelm your senses. The cidade maravillosa (marvelous city) is home to 37 sexy beaches that glitter against the landscape's series of verdant hills. Beyond the shore, the Christ statue-topped Corcovado and the Sugarloaf promontory leave lasting impressions on those who ascend their heights. Throw in striking architecture, a fun-loving beach culture, a vibrant nightlife (samba, anyone?), and you understand how this city of 6.1 million people has become a lifelong favorite for anyone who has visited.
Why Go In Summer: June, July, and August are not Rio's warmest months, but minimal rainfall hardly sounds like a consolation prize. With Carnival over, mostly locals remain, and the surrounding mountains encapsulate a city teeming with authenticity.
Summer 2013 Events: Cinesul Festival Ibero-Americano de Cinema e Video (June 4–16); Fine Dining in Rio or “Rio Bom de Mesa” (May 31–June 2)
Asia & Middle East
Summer Forecast: Summer is high season in China – expect inflated hotel prices and “getting there” expenses, as well as Great Wall crowds. The upside is the primo weather you’ll encounter in revamped Beijing or across the Tibetan steppe. The hill stations of northern India are a beautiful place to beat the summer heat, though monsoons hit here occasionally. The same potential for storms brings low-season bargains to beach destinations along the South China Sea. The summer months are considered high season for Israel, Lebanon, and Syria (the Levant), though travelers should avoid the Gulf as temperatures climb as high as 110 degrees. Although less scorching, Egyptian, Jordanian and Yemenite summer temperatures make sightseeing exhausting.
Stunning tropical islands and an intriguing Buddhist heritage have turned Thailand into Asia’s tourism hub, and deservedly so. The famous hospitality of the Thai people serves as an ever-present backdrop to tranquil northern jungles (with Chiang Mai serving as the region’s cultural hub), spectacular southern islands, and the bustling capital that is Bangkok.
Why Go In Summer: Daily showers and impossibly high humidity mean less tourists, lower hotel rates, but slightly more hassle. The Southern Gulf islands are relatively free of rain, though, so go there instead of dealing with crowded streets in Bangkok.
Summer 2013 Events: Laguna Phuket International Marathon (June 9)
Tokyo spent most of its history as an out-of-the-way backwater, but about 400 years ago the shogun (military ruler) built his castle here and the city has never looked back. Now a world leader in business, education, finance, media, manufacturing, and shipping, it’s managed to avoid the problems that plague cities elsewhere: poverty, homelessness, and crime are virtually unheard of. What’s left is a sprawling metropolis populated by literate, cosmopolitan, gourmet, gracious, hospitable, and stylish denizens.
Why Go In Summer: Many travelers – both Japanese and foreign – take to the rails and skies at this time of year. It’s a great time to travel as long as you don’t mind heat, humidity, and the possibility of getting caught in monsoon rains (June) and the occasional typhoon (September). Though more prone to rain, June and September also see lower rates on hotels and airfare than July and August.
Summer 2013 Events: Sanno Matsuri (June TBD); Sumida River Fireworks Display (July 27)
Summer Forecast: Except for the calm, dry days that make travel along Africa’s eastern coast very pleasant, the Southern Hemisphere’s winter brings rainfall and lower-than-usual temperatures to much of southern Africa. Dodge rainy season in Kenya with a game drive between May and November, but beware the Sahara basin and points north, which sizzle beneath a relentless equatorial sun. The beach resorts of Tunisia are predictably bustling, while in South Africa, August and September temperatures are still low and wildlife visibility is good.
Although Kenya is known for its outstanding nature reserves and safaris, visitors are often surprised by the sheer diversity of activities and sights on offer here. From stark deserts to sparkling coastline to mist-shrouded peaks, Kenya encompasses the best of Africa’s landscapes.
Why Go In Summer: The weather is still dry, but it’s cooler than in high season (temps in the low 70s are common). This is also when the annual wildebeest migration takes place.
Summer 2013 Events: Lewa Marathon (June 29); Maralal Camel Derby (Aug. 1–31)
20. SKELETON COAST, NAMIBIA
An eerie bit of Namibia’s Atlantic edge, the Skeleton Coast serves an often fog-covered dish of nature over man. Named for the whale and seal bones that once littered the shore when the industry was booming, and the skeletal remains of the coast’s many rock-and-wave-caused shipwrecks, the abandoned Skeleton Coast plays host to extraordinary geology, a large seal colony, and desert elephants.
Why Go In Summer: Both daunting and captivating, the Atlantic shoreline of Namibia and the sculpted dunes of the Namib Desert are as unforgiving as they are beautiful. As deserts go, the winter season here (May to October) is both warm and dry.
Summer 2013 Events: None announced as of present time