4 min

10 great summer cities

The time is right for dancing in the streets

Picturesque Vancouver. Credit: Xtra files

Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing, drinking, eating and watching movies in the streets. And parks. And on the beaches. And when you’re done doing that, it’s also time for climbing, kayaking, swimming, surfing and whitewater rafting. Some cities just seem especially good at celebrating summer. While some shine when it comes to making the most of the mountains, lakes, beaches, rivers and ravines in their backyards, others combine a hectic cultural calendar with Olympic-sized jolts of joie de vivre. Read on to find out where to make the most of summer.

1.  Toronto, Ontario
You can’t beat Toronto in summer: walk 100 feet in any direction on a summer weekend and you’ll stumble upon a street party or festival. Meanwhile, patios spill out onto every sidewalk, and beaches beckon along the hem of Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands. Perhaps it’s the sense of relief that comes after long winters, but summers are truly special in the Ontario capital. Summer 2014 has already kicked off with the gargantuan Toronto WorldPride, but still to come are open-air movies at Harbourfront, Sugar Beach, Christie Pits, Yonge-Dundas Square and in the courtyard at St Peter’s Catholic Church, the exuberant Caribana and food festivals galore, from Taste of the Danforth to Summerlicious.

2.  Vancouver, BC
The ocean breeze, the summer calendar of festivals and cultural options that include the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival and easy access to mountains, ravines, rivers, forests, beaches and islands make Vancouver a killer choice for summer. Experience Asian-influenced summer night markets in the suburb of Richmond, the plethora of produce and picnic supplies available at Granville Island Market, the Celebration of Light fireworks extravaganzas and August’s Pride festival, and you’ll not want to spend a summer anywhere else ever again.

3.  Missoula, Montana
Summer in this university town in the Bitterroot Mountains is idyllic. Alleged to be where David Lynch wrote Twin Peaks (and the setting for the book and movie A River Runs Through It), Missoula is an inspiring spot. With its coffeehouses, restaurants and bars enjoyably quiet while the students are out of town, this city of 100,000 makes a fantastic base for exploring the wealth of wonders right on Missoula’s doorstep, from the ghost town of Garnet to biking the Lolo National Forest and Rattlesnake Recreation Area or tubing the Blackfoot or Bitterroot rivers. Plan your visit to coincide with August’s River City Roots Festival.

4.  Portland, Oregon
Oregon’s largest city really picks up the pace when summer arrives. Local produce weighs down tables at the metro area’s 32 farmers’ markets and festivities dot the calendar, from the Rose Festival to July’s boisterous Brewers Festival. And, it being quirky Portland, there’s an annual Recycled Arts Festival, too. Just outside the city there are vineyards to visit, the Clackamas River to whitewater raft, the Hood River to windsurf, Scappoose Bay to kayak and Mount Hood to clamber up. With just an inch of Oregon’s infamous precipitation falling each summer month, it’s the perfect time to visit The Rose City.

5.  Denver, Colorado
Colorado’s largest city is a refreshing one — summer in the Mile-High City boasts no fewer than three beer festivals. The parks and the Botanic Gardens are lit up with outdoor movie showings, the city’s 16 outdoor pools open June through August and daytime temperatures hover around a pleasant 22 degrees celsius all summer long. And, of course, if you head out of town, the wildflower-covered Rockies are all around.

6.  Portland, Maine
The state of Maine’s main city is home to just 65,000 people, making it an enjoyably compact spot to explore. With a lively arts scene, excellent restaurants and a great brew-pub scene, the Casco Bay mini-metropolis can easily keep you occupied and well fed and watered for a weekend. Extend your stay by taking one of the ferries that shuttle from the city’s working waterfront to the bay islands, visit nearby New England beaches and lighthouses or drive 30 minutes north to the unexpected 40-acre Desert of Maine. A 45-minute drive south takes you to the LGBT-friendly resort town of Ogunquit.

7.  Anchorage, Alaska
Almost half of Alaska’s population lives in Anchorage. If you want to make the most of summer days, the Land of the Midnight Sun is definitely the place to go — the sun hardly sets in June and July. Anchorage has a gorgeous setting, on the dramatic Cook Inlet, and the vibrant downtown offers a good mix of bars, restaurants and galleries. Stay close to town and kayak the inlet or venture further to view elk, bears and whales. Keep some cash to buy souvenirs — Alaska is one of the few US states with no sales tax.

8.  San Francisco, California
’Frisco is the perfect summer city. With a plethora of parks, hikes to the headlands and Mount Tamalpais looming just across the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s a city that seems to live for summer. To add a bit of beach to your bohemia, visit Ocean Beach in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and stroll, surf or snuggle up by a nighttime beach fire.

9.  Traverse City, Michigan
Traverse City is a Lake Superior delight with a population of 15,000. The town is a wonderful summer escape, situated just four hours’ drive from Windsor. It’s perched at the base of the Mission and Leelenau peninsulas, with a string of fine beaches within easy reach and the incredible Sleeping Bear Dunes just 48 kilometres to the west. Traverse City offers a wealth of wineries and ice wineries, the 88th annual Cherry Festival this July (just one of 150 mostly free events on each summer), delis, bakers, cheese makers, brewers (don’t miss Short’s award-winning brew-pub), candy makers and all the excellent eateries you’d expect in a town with such features. Be sure to visit Grand Traverse Commons, a 63-acre shopping and residential development in the former Northern Michigan Asylum.

10. Honolulu, Hawaii
Summer doesn’t change the temperature too much on the island of Oahu, with average daily highs staying in the high 20s year-round. Honolulu is a laid-back city with stellar beaches, including the famous Waikiki; an endless choice of beach bars; and some fine places to eat. The island is small enough to drive around in a few hours, but take your time and stop at the myriad beaches that span Hawaii’s most populous island, sample fresh seafood from roadside shrimp shacks and explore tiny towns, including the beach town of Kailua and surfers’ hangout Haleiwa.