1. Make a Splash
First things first: Cool off in a crystal-clear body of water.
Cannonball into the refreshing Warren Falls swimming hole on Vermont’s Mad River.
Kayak for bliss-free miles down the Kansas River Trail.
White-water-raft through the Snake River Canyon of Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Stand-up-paddleboard on the glassy surface of Summersville Lake in West Virginia.
2. Watch Sparks Fly
Every few weeks from May to November, the city of Providence, Rhode Island, lights up the night with WaterFire, an art installation of more than 80 floating bonfires in the middle of its three rivers. Witness the flames from Waterplace Park, or with a drink in hand from the piazza at Café Nuovo.
3. Find an (Almost) Empty Beach
When you want a peaceful stretch of sand, not a crazy scene, head here.
On the Outer Banks of North Carolina, venture south and over the Oregon Inlet to Rodanthe. Swap the swanky hotels and bikinis of South Beach in Miami Beach, Florida, for the dunes, quiet bike paths, and lighthouse of familyfriendly Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, on nearby Key Biscayne. Twenty-five miles from busy Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Island, South Carolina, offers near solitude from low-key Prince George to DeBordieu.
4. Catch A Wave
. . . or watch the top pros in the world ride them from July 23 to 31 at the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing, in Huntington Beach, California.
5. Bask in a Killer Sunset
Settle in on a blanket at one of these three famous vantage points: the secluded southern shore of Tybee Island, Georgia; the sweeping white-sand beach on Dauphin Island, Alabama; or Butterfly Beach in Santa Barbara, California, across from famed Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore.
6. Run Through a Sprinkler
Sure, your backyard hose will get the job done, but these city oases make the experience next-level.
Clamber over the sandstone Water Steps in Pittsburgh’s North Shore Riverfront Park, which offer views of the skyline along the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.
Climb down the terraces of the Water Gardens, architect Philip Johnson’s recessed meditation pool in downtown Fort Worth, Texas.
Cool off in the 13,000 gallons of H2O rushing down the concrete cliffs of Keller Fountain Park in Portland, Oregon.
7. Catch Your Dinner
Want the freshest fare possible? Pull seafood from the water yourself.
- Go crabbing, or fish on or offshore or even in a nearby salt marsh, and the chef at the Sea Island resort in Georgia will cook your catch for supper.
- In Alaska, summer is peak salmon season. Hook them while they’re running at the beautifully rustic El Capitan Lodge, where the staff will prepare them straight off the boat.
- Shuck your own oysters after wading in Virginia’s Lynnehaven River during Pleasure House Oysters’ Waterman Tour.
8. Behold a Natural Wonder
August 25 is the centennial of the National Park Service (thank you, Teddy Roosevelt!), so all 127 parks that charge admission are waiving it from that day through August 28. Each offers breathtaking landscapes, from the red-rock formations in Arches in Moab, Utah, to the mesmerizing dune patterns at Great Sand Dunes in Mosca, Colorado.
9. State Fairs
Dare to eat the Donut Burger, a fully loaded patty between two glazed donuts, at the Ohio State Fair, July 27 to August 7; the Cornbrat, a corn-batter-dipped bratwurst at the Iowa State Fair, August 11 to 21; or the Bacon-in-a-Blanket, two slices of battered and deep-fried bacon on a stick, at the Nebraska State Fair, August 26 to September 5.
10. Take Two Wheels
And cycle back in time.
The 237-mile Katy Trail along the Missouri River passes through prairies, farms, and vineyards. The 335-mile Great Allegheny Passage (or GAP trail) spans wooded paths from Pittsburgh to D.C. The 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway traverses Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi, winding through archaeological sites and gorgeous vistas.
11. Hunt for Treasure
Mark your calendar to scour these troves.
Brimfield, July 12 to 17 and September 6 to 11, in Massachusetts, is the country’s largest outdoor antiques show.
The Renegade Craft Fair, in Seattle July 23 and 24, brings together more than 200 makers in a renovated aircraft hangar.
The Berea Craft Festival, July 8 to 10 in Kentucky’s craft capital, is a hub for wood-carvers, potters, and leatherworkers.
12. Saddle Up
See cowboys ride, rope, and barrel-race -- all in a spectacular Rocky Mountain-top setting -- during the 91st anniversary Rooftop Rodeo in Estes Park, Colorado, from July 6 to 11. Explore the range at Red Horse Mountain Ranch in Harrison, Idaho, which offers weeklong family dude-ranch packages all summer long. Grab a fancy hat and head to the box seats at the Saratoga racetrack in New York, which is up and running from July 22 to September 5.
13. Attend an Outdoor Concert
Classical: The Grant Park Music Festival outdoor concert series, in Chicago’s Millennium Park from June 15 to August 20.
Jazz: The Litchfield Jazz Festival, in Goshen, Connecticut, on August 6 and 7.
Show Tunes: The Reno Philharmonic’s “Broadway on the Beach” at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, in Nevada.
14. Take It All In
Breathe in some beauty. Across the country, flowers are in full bloom.
- The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York, has created gardens resembling the works of American impressionists for its 125th-anniversary exhibit, American Gardens on Canvas, on view from May 14 to September 11.
- The Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon is showcasing four bamboo artists at the Bending Nature show, beginning August 20.
- The International Peace Garden straddles the border between Canada and North Dakota—and from late July through the end of August, it bursts with roses, geraniums, petunias, and lilies.
- The Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail Driving Tour, in northern Indiana’s Amish Country, feature more than a million flowers planted in quiltlike patterns.
15. Hit the Roof
It’s putt-putt with a view at the nine-hole Skyline Mini Golf Course, atop the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis. Sip a dark-and-stormy while playing shuffleboard and Ping-Pong on the patio during happy hour at Frol!k rooftop bar, at the Motif Hotel in Seattle. Take a dip in the rooftop pool (it has views of the Back Bay and Fenway Park) at Boston’s Colonnade Hotel.
16. Sleep Outside
There's no need to rough it in these spots.
- A Mongolian-style yurt at Falling Waters Nantahala adventure resort, in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains.
- A family “tent bungalow” at Costanoa Lodge eco-resort, in Pescadero, California.
- A glamping camp like Dunton River Camp, a restored homestead in the Colorado Rockies where tents have down comforters and towel warmers.
- Your private “sky terrace” at Amangiri, in Canyon Point, Utah.
- The backyard! Join the Great American Campout on June 25, organized by the National Wildlife Federation. For tips, go to nwf.org/great-american-campout.aspx.
17. Watch a Film Alfresco
Who wants to sit inside a theater on a gorgeous night? Enjoy a movie -- and a balmy breeze -- on one of these screens.
Pull up to the Capri Drive-In in Coldwater, Michigan, which is still run by the same family that opened it in 1964. (To find a drive-in closer to you, visit driveintheatre-ownersassociation.org.)
See recent box-office hits against the Manhattan skyline when the city of Hoboken, New Jersey, shows Movies Under the Stars on the waterfront every Wednesday from June 8 through August 17.
Mile-high flicks are preceded by a concert and a stand-up comic in the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheater during the Denver Film Society’s Films on the Rocks series, from May 23 through September 6.
Set up a home theater. Rent a projector (or buy one used) and broadcast it onto a light wall, or go all out with Airblown’s inflatable movie screen ($130, target.com). For more advice, see backyardtheater.com.
18. It wouldn’t be summer without . . . “the buzzing of cicadas.
It reminds me of when I was a teenager in Ohio, enjoying the evening after the heat of the day had passed, imagining the exciting things that might happen to me in adulthood.”
—Curtis Sittenfeld, St. Louis–based author of Eligible
Don't miss a double header of meteor showers, with the Delta Aquarids (July 28 to 29) and the Perseids (August 11 to 12). For a good place to view them, use the Dark Sky Finder app ($3, for iOS).
20. Celebrate With Fireworks
You’re invited to the nation’s birthday party in Philadelphia, where the largest free concert in America (for this year’s lineup, go to welcomeamerica.com) starts at 7 p.m. on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and ends with a big bang—fireworks exploding above the Philadelphia Museum of Art.