Best Place To Vacation From Oregon to Maine, we picked 10 perfect places in North America to spend your summer holiday.
By Andrea Bennett and Amy Wilson with Tara Kalwarski

(MONEY Magazine) – Most of the recent changes in the way Americans travel fall into the category of necessary inconveniences: heightened security measures, long airport waits, that sort of thing. But there is one change that's been unambiguously positive: Study after study indicates that people are increasingly leaving home to rediscover America and spend more quality time with their families.

These new priorities dovetail perfectly with the criteria MONEY uses to select the Best Places to Vacation. Our methodology: We look for places, including side trips, that easily justify a week of one's time. They have to feature spectacular natural beauty but not be so isolated that they don't also offer a wide variety of attractions, including cultural events and some decent places to eat. And finally, we seek great values. Not that our picks must necessarily be cheap--but they need to be well worth the dollars you'd spend there. After collecting a sizable group of candidates that fit these criteria, we spent several weeks vetting ideas with travel experts and well-traveled families, culling the list to 10. We think you'll agree that this year's picks fit the bill.

We've also taken a look back at last year's selections, which we think are just as "best" now as they were then. Plus, we offer a firsthand guide to a creative vacation strategy: swapping homes with someone from a desirable destination. One other thing: Accommodation rates are for double rooms unless otherwise noted. Here's what we found, from west to east.


Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't always rain in Portland. July and August combined, in fact, get an average of only seven days of rain. Weather aside, Portland's been experiencing a renaissance of sorts for nearly a decade now, and thanks to the progressive nature of its residents, the changes are happening in a refreshingly attractive and functional manner. Besides being a city on the make, Portland is within striking distance of the stunning Oregon coast (just 90 minutes away), the equally breathtaking Columbia River Gorge (less than an hour away) and the laid-back vineyards of the Willamette Valley. Combine all this with the contagious friendliness of the people--this is a fairly cosmopolitan city without a hint of pretension--and you have a perfect site for a lovely family vacation.

Among the city's attractions are its compact, cafe-filled downtown; Old Town, a patchwork of restored buildings now occupied by bustling restaurants and brewpubs; the outdoor market held every Saturday beneath the west end of Burnside Bridge; and Powell's City of Books, said to be the country's largest bookstore. Portland is also home to the stunning new Portland Classical Chinese Garden, the largest such garden outside China, and Forest Park, a popular, trail-filled oasis overlooking the city.

For those eager to see the coast, we recommend the magnificent area around Cannon Beach, where you'll find tide pools rich with mussels and starfish as well as the dramatic Haystack Rock, one of the world's largest coastal monoliths. Plan another day for the Columbia River Gorge, site of the popular 612-foot-tall Multnomah Falls, and nearby Mount Hood. And, finally, head for the pastoral calm of the Willamette Valley, where you'll find scores of highly respected wineries--Panther Creek's Winemaker's Cuvee is nothing short of stellar--and imaginative restaurants. If you choose to spend the night, the area has many gracious inns, including Partridge Farm (503-538-2050), a yellow-and-white Victorian farmhouse with suites for $120, breakfast included, and great views of the valley.


About halfway between San Francisco and L.A., there's a bay with some nice beaches, a big rock and a hard-won reputation for peace and quiet. In fact, two towns along Estero Bay--Morro Bay and Cayucos--are most famous for not being famous at all: Zoning laws and high real estate prices have kept big hotels and developers in check, while farmers and preservationists have maintained some of the area's rural atmosphere. In short, Estero Bay is a temperate (average daily high in July: 75[degrees]F) and family-friendly beach oasis that's also an ideal base for day trips to nearby Hearst Castle and other tourist highlights of California's central coast.

The area's most famous feature is 576-foot-high Morro Rock, an extinct volcano that rises from the water just off the coast of Morro Bay. It's a striking backdrop to this town that has long thrived on commercial fishing. Visitors come to charter boats, eat ice cream and saltwater taffy on the boardwalk and wander among eye-popping displays of fresh fish and local produce that go on sale every Saturday afternoon.

Ten minutes north is Cayucos, known locally as the "last of the California beach towns." Clean white sand and good surfing make its beaches the finest around, yet the town has kept itself from morphing into an overrun tourist magnet like nearby San Luis Obispo. We suggest you make it your base. There are a few small hotels here, but a better tactic is to rent a beach house through a local real estate outfit: Coastal Escapes (800-709-2100) and Cayucos Vacation Rentals (800-995-2322) both have good reputations and appealing deals. We found, for example, a three-bedroom, two-bath beachfront house with a deck, fireplace, washer and dryer, and barbecue grill for $200 a night.

In addition to the spectacle of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, 30-odd minutes to the north, excellent day trips include the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Preserve, one of the largest sand dune areas in the U.S., and the pristinely preserved La Purisima mission in Lampoc.


Some say you're more likely to see mountain goats than cars on the roads around Whitefish, Mont. This gateway town to magnificent Glacier National Park also abuts the longest designated wild river system in the U.S. In other words, Whitefish feels very, very remote. Yet it is deceptively accessible: Glacier Park International Airport serves most major U.S. hubs, offering the country's closest direct service to a mountain resort community.

Most summer visitors to Whitefish are making the pilgrimage to Glacier--with good reason. For one thing, this national park doesn't see the kind of congestion that plagues many others. Yet vibrant wildlife and 50 active glaciers--still hard at work carving spectacular scenery--make it as awe- inspiring as any park in the system. In fact, Glacier is a World Heritage site, placing it in the ranks of the Taj Mahal, Serengeti Plains and Galapagos Islands.

The town of Whitefish is more than just a springboard to Glacier. It has a lively downtown, some fine restaurants (including the award-winning Tupelo Grille), professional guides for every imaginable outdoor activity and even its own network of excellent hiking trails. Most notable is the Danny On trail, a full day's hike to the 7,000-foot summit of Big Mountain, which offers amazing views of Glacier and, in August, rolling hills full of Montana's famous huckleberries.

Good deals can be had at some of the cookie-cutter hotels and condos in Whitefish. But we recommend Grouse Mountain Lodge (877-862- 1505), a quintessential Big Sky experience complete with antler chandeliers, moose heads and (stuffed) black bears in the lobby. The rustic trappings belie one of the most luxurious mountain resorts in the West, yet you can get a family-size loft that fits seven people for $229 a night.


Months of ceaseless Olympics buildup and coverage may have convinced you that there's nothing left to discover in the mountains of Utah. Think again. The Heber Valley, an uncrowded weekend haven within 15 minutes of both Park City and Sundance and less than an hour south of Salt Lake City, got little attention from the film crews. In fact, unless they stumble on the valley on the way from one buzzing resort to another, most out-of-staters never get to know this alpine hideaway. Stretched between the Uinta and Wasatch mountains at the base of 11,750-foot Mount Timpanogos, the valley has miles of hiking trails, streams teeming with trout and a string of fine public golf courses.

The best way to experience the area is a stay at one of its several family-oriented resorts--at a fraction of the cost of the nearby luxury hot spots. There's no better choice than the Homestead Resort (800-327-722) in Heber City, a historic farm at the base of the Wasatch with just 30 "cottage style" rooms and suites. The Homestead features 39 holes of golf, but its unique feature is the Crater, a 55-foot-tall, beehive-shaped limestone rock that, thanks to a geological quirk, is filled by a 96[degrees]F natural hot spring. Guests enter through a tunnel to lounge on decks and soak in the crystal-clear mineral water. Rates range from $119 a night for a room with a queen-size bed to $314 for a one-bedroom suite.

Another good choice is the Inn on the Creek (800-654-0892), which has 44 rooms and 32 chalet homes spread over several acres and sits between a 36-hole golf course and the mountains. Suites in one of the eight main inn rooms go for about $165 a night on weekends, 20% less on weekdays (and are available only for adults). The chalet suites, most of which have living rooms, fireplaces and full kitchens, average about $140 a night.

Both the Inn on the Creek and the exclusive Blue Boar Inn in Midway are gaining renown for their laid-back but elegant restaurants. For many more dining options and other evening activities, Sundance's outdoor theater offerings and Park City's restaurants and microbreweries are just a few miles in either direction.

Area visitors shouldn't skip the Heber Valley Historic Railroad--a.k.a. the "Heber Creeper"--which takes you on a slow but spectacular 3 1/2-hour mountain ride in restored 1920s coach and open-air cars.

Most Salt Lake City residents think of Heber as a good day trip, but we suggest you do it the other way around. Temple Square, home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Salt Lake Temple, is well worth a visit, as is the Mormon church's genealogical library, the largest in the world, where visitors can trace their family roots.


Founded as a mining community in 1880, Bisbee became, by the turn of the century, the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. That early prosperity meant that Bisbee was built in a far grander style than most of the era's boomtowns. Today its historic downtown streets are lined with stately brick buildings and its hillsides crowded with Victorian homes--all remarkably well preserved.

None of this would justify a trip to southern Arizona in the summer, however, were it not for Bisbee's strategic position. Because it's located nearly a mile up in the Mule Mountains, temperatures are consistently 20[degrees]F cooler than in Phoenix and 10[degrees]F cooler than in Tucson. The climate and location together make Bisbee a unique place to enjoy the outdoors. Just outside town, hikers will find stunning views of both the Huachuca and Chiricahua mountains. And bird watchers flock to Bisbee in early July, when the nearby San Pedro River Valley turns into a hummingbird highway.

Visitors also love following the chamber of commerce's popular self-guided walking tour, which winds its way up the serpentine stairways and narrow paths of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown. Back on Main Street you'll find a range of galleries and crafts and antique shops.

Tombstone's legendary OK Corral (where gunslingers Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday took on the Clantons) is just 20 minutes away by car. Kids love what is probably the best staged gunfight in the West. Many vivid glimpses of the area's history are even nearer at hand. Tours of the Copper Queen Mine, complete with hardhats and slickers, take you 1,500 feet belowground aboard open-car trains. As many as 47 saloons once served up libations to hardened miners in the area of town known as Brewery Gulch. (Beware: Most are now shops selling New Age art or Old West kitsch.) And the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, one of the country's few small-town Smithsonian affiliates, highlights the area's mineral wealth.

Bed and breakfasts are plentiful, ranging from the small and exclusive to the eclectic and kid-friendly (for a complete listing, check The Copper Queen Hotel (800-247-5829), which was built in 1902 with no expense spared, is celebrating its centennial year with a summer package: $101 gets you a double room, continental breakfast and mine and museum tour passes. And the Shady Dell (520-432-3567) allows you to stay in its assortment of 1950s-vintage travel trailers, complete with period furnishings and the occasional phonograph (vintage records provided) for about $58 a night. Even if you don't stay at Shady Dell, come for a meal at the on-site Dot's Diner, a perfectly preserved Art Deco diner with hearty, inexpensive food and plenty of neon.


Located just east of Green Bay and jutting out like a thumb into Lake Michigan, Wisconsin's Door County remains, for the most part, a jealously guarded secret. Weekenders from Milwaukee (2 1/2 hours south) and Chicago (4 1/2 hours south) are a common sight. But the peninsula seldom attracts notice outside the region. This is one of those rare places that successfully balances the friendly atmosphere and leisurely pace you look for in a rural retreat with the tourist infrastructure necessary for a comfortable and lively family vacation.

Among the attractions are 250 miles of coastline dotted with lighthouses, state parks, rocky beaches and sailboat-filled marinas. The county's nine small fishing villages, which are within seven to 11 miles of one another, make for popular biking destinations. Farm stands throughout the area are bountiful with produce and the state's renowned dairy offerings. And acres upon acres of pick-your-own cherry orchards demand at least an afternoon from late July to early August.

The area also offers lots of outdoor concerts and theater. Often ranked among the best regional theater troupes in the country, American Folklore Theater puts on nightly performances in the woods at Peninsula State Park through the summer. (Bug spray is free.)

No visit to the area is complete without participating in the local custom known as a fishboil. This boisterous Scandinavian tradition involves filling a large cauldron with potatoes, whitefish and spices, and setting it all on an outdoor fire. The food is less the point--in fact, some say it's to be avoided--than the beer, music and company. There are also more conventional--and refined--dining options available. The Sage Restaurant and Wine Bar in Sturgeon Bay, for example, serves much-praised contemporary American cuisine in an Art Deco setting. And Wilson's Ice Cream, family-run since 1906, is a revered institution--and a necessary stop.

Accommodations range from B&Bs to home and condo rentals to full-blown resorts. One popular family choice is Egg Harbor's Landing Resort (920-868-3282), which offers condo suites with fully-equipped kitchens, a pool, tennis and basketball courts and movie rentals. Rates vary depending on room size and month; from late June through August, a one-bedroom suite that comfortably sleeps four runs $150 a night. For more places to stay, check the website maintained by the Door County Chamber of Commerce at


Iroquois legend credits the geography of New York's Finger Lakes to the Great Spirit, who's said to have left handprints while blessing the land. Of course, we now know that the 11 long, slender lakes, arranged nearly parallel to each other, are the etchings of ice age glaciers--but that doesn't diminish the area's ability to inspire awe.

The region encompasses 9,000 square miles of stunning natural beauty, including 25 state parks, a national forest, a national wildlife refuge, strings of river gorges and 1,063 waterfalls (among them Taughannock Falls, which have a higher vertical drop than Niagara). Everywhere land meets water, vacation activities are plentiful. Though swimming in the lakes is not for the timid--in summer, the water is in the mid- to high 70s--boating, water-skiing and fishing are musts.

There's more to enjoy here than the great outdoors. Cultural events, festivals, museums, galleries and good places to eat, drink and shop abound. Ithaca, a vibrant college town at the base of Cayuga Lake, has more than its share of museums, restaurants and cafes. Also worth a visit is the impressive Corning Museum of Glass, which just completed a $62 million expansion, and the adjoining factory, which you can tour.

The region's increasingly respected wineries, specializing in Riesling, should not be missed. Of the 70 dotting the hills between the lakes, Chateau LaFayette Reneau and Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, both on Seneca Lake, and Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport are worth special attention. This year, New York State designated the region for the annual I Love NY Spring Festival that runs from March 21 to June 21, during which the wineries will host special events.

For accommodations in the region, lakeside cabins are where it's at if you plan to spend a week or more. Prices vary greatly. We found a three-bedroom turn-of-the-century cottage with more than 100 feet of shoreline on Keuka Lake with modern amenities, porch and dock for $1,600 a week. Check for more listings. If a weeklong commitment is not your style, the B&Bs and inns scattered throughout the region range from $45 to $200 a night. Contact the Finger Lakes Association (800-530-7488; for info.


Lewes may not ring a bell, but don't hold that against it. Positioned at the mouth of Delaware Bay, this little-known jewel is generally lacking in tourist culture but overflowing with charm. Historically rich, Lewes' sleepy colonial streets are perfect for exploring. Its miles and miles of unspoiled shoreline are a beach lover's dream. And Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. are all within a two-hour drive if you're willing to leave the shore and tolerate sweltering summer heat to take in a ball game, historical site or museum.

Day trips up and down the Atlantic Coast may be more appealing to some. A beautiful 70-minute ferry ride takes you across Delaware Bay to the Victorian and saltwater taffy atmosphere of Cape May, N.J. Rehoboth Beach, just 20 minutes south of Lewes, is also a lively, if crowded, family-oriented beach town with a classic wooden boardwalk and a popular outlet mall of some 140 stores.

Lewes itself is great biking territory; many visitors rent bikes for the pleasant ride to Cape Henlopen State Park, a little over a mile from town. Its beautiful beach is a great place for swimming, sunbathing and spotting bottlenose dolphins. The Seaside Nature Center, located in the park, is popular for its aquarium and activities like the monthly Full Moon Walk. Also worth a visit is the Maritime Museum; don't miss the cannonball from the War of 1812 in the basement.

Blue crab season peaks in midsummer, and Lewes is a great place to go crabbing. If the prey proves elusive, the homestyle Crab Barn is the hands-down favorite place for feasting on crab legs and fried clams. The chamber of commerce Web page ( lists some 15 inns, and Lewes Realty (800-705-7590) has weeklong rentals, ranging in price from $750 a week (for a house one block from the beach that sleeps up to seven) to $2,500 for a large, upscale house near the canal that comfortably sleeps eight to 10. The Inn at Canal Square (888-644-1911) has a "Stay in Lewes, Shop in Rehoboth" weekend package for $299 that offers two nights' accommodations, including breakfast and a bottle of wine. And the Blue Water House (800-493-2080) earns its devoted family following: Rooms are $120 a night, which includes use of bikes, boogie boards, beach chairs and umbrellas.


We think Quebec City's reputation as the "Poor Man's Paris" gives this stunningly beautiful city short shrift. It is true that the old town's narrow cobblestone streets, imposing chateau-style clifftop architecture and mostly French-speaking population make you think you've actually left the continent. And you can undoubtedly have this deeply French experience on a limited budget, thanks to the weak Canadian dollar. But the city also offers a compact lesson in Canadian history, access to some spectacular natural surroundings and, ultimately, an identity that's very much its own.

Summer is arguably the best time in Quebec City. Temperatures are in the high 70s from June to September and the days are long. Some sites are open to the public only in summer, like the 200-year-old Citadel National Historic Site, where the Royal 22nd Regiment of Canadian Forces perform the changing of the guard daily from June through August.

Below the city are the Plains of Abraham, site of many clashes between the French and the British before the British finally took over the city in 1759. The space is now occupied by Battlefield Park and the Musee du Quebec.

If you can, visit the city between July 4 and 14 for the International Summer Festival, 10 days of free jazz, folk and rock performances and streetside improvisational theater. But even if you don't make it for the festival, there's always something going on in and around the sidewalk cafes that line the city streets.

The true heart of French Canada is embodied in the 17th-century Vieux Quebec, the only walled city in North America, which climbs in tiers above the St. Lawrence River. There you will find the Chateau Frontenac, the archetypal chateau hotel that has become the city's most recognizable icon. Now owned by the Fairmont hotels, the Frontenac (418-692-3861) is one of the best luxury hotel values in North America, at about $140 a night.

Great side trips include the Charlevoix region on the banks of the St. Lawrence River and the thousand lakes of the Laurentian Mountains, which feature some of the most breathtaking scenery in North America.


Who hasn't heard their elders wax nostalgic for the unspoiled vacation spots of yesteryear? Few places are as often the subject of such memories as Cape Cod, which, though still a delightful retreat in many respects, strikes many of today's summer visitors as crowded, expensive and overdeveloped. Which is why we recommend heading north instead of south out of Boston, to the southern coastal towns of Maine. The region's beaches, fishing villages and lobster shacks come close to recapturing the flavor of Cape Cod a generation ago.

York and Ogunquit are two of the southernmost in Maine's chain of coastal communities. Each has miles of pristine, sandy beaches and a distinctive personality. York, which celebrates its 350th birthday this year, is the oldest town in Maine. Born as a fishing community, the town became an important mercantile port in the 18th century and a summer retreat for wealthy Bostonians in the 19th. Today you can stay in the same inns the brahmins did. The York Harbor Inn, for example, parts of which are more than 300 years old, was expanded through the 1900s and is now a perfectly appointed Victorian-style hotel with four-poster beds and fireplaces. Prices range from $109 to $319 a night. For glimpses into the town's past, the Old York Historical Society will conduct private tours of colonial homes in June. And the Fourth of July will feature the dramatization of a Revolutionary War encampment at a wharf once owned by John Hancock.

Twenty minutes north is Ogunquit, which has a long tradition as a haven of artists and craftsmen. Its small downtown section is full of specialty shops and galleries. Three miles of white sand beach and a mile-and-a-half-long cliff walk (known as the Marginal Way) line the coast. While Ogunquit's historic B&Bs are popular--many charge less than $100 a night--families with kids will like Meadowmere Resort (800-633-8718;, a smallish hotel with two swimming pools that is located steps from the town trolley line. Standard room rates during the week range from $139 to $289 a night for a two-room suite with two double beds and two singles.