En español | With nearly 8,000 miles of coastline, lofty ranges of snow-capped peaks, and countless rivers, lakes and charming towns in between, California and the Northwest hold a continent’s worth of summer getaways. The delightful difficulty is deciding which one’s for you.
Lake Tahoe — California and Nevada
Poised at an elevation of 6,223 feet and ringed by Sierra Nevada peaks, North America’s largest alpine lake has beckoned summer visitors for well over a century. The city of South Lake Tahoe has its own small airport and abundant lodgings, but many visitors arrive via Reno-Tahoe International Airport and stay in smaller towns like Tahoe City (the Cottage Inn, Basecamp Tahoe City), on the north shore. The lake's upper layer warms to about 65 degrees by July, great for a plunge when the air temp reaches into the 80s and the smell of pine wafts across golden sand beaches. Tour Tahoe’s sapphire waters by sailboat, vintage motor yacht or paddle-wheel boat, and hike the forested ridges of its basin for incomparable views. For a glimpse at how the fine folk once summered here, check out the imposing 19th- and early-20th-century lodges at Tallac Historic Site in South Lake Tahoe.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Established as North America’s first destination ski resort in 1936, Sun Valley in recent years has blossomed into a prime center for outdoorsy summer fun. Flying into Friedman Memorial Airport and lodging at the resort can be pricey, but many visitors pare expenses by catching a flight to Boise, making a roughly three-hour drive, and staying in neighboring Big Wood River communities like Ketchum, an old mining town. The region offers an impressively diverse menu of activities — golfing on an alpine links-style course, river rafting and riding horses along mountain trails, or hiking down Bald Mountain after a panoramic gondola ride to the top. But you can also slow it down with an Olympic-caliber ice show, free top-notch outdoor symphony concerts and one of the Northwest’s premier arts and crafts festivals every August.
"All the world’s a stage," as the Bard wrote, but few places are more so than Ashland, a 20-minute drive north of the California border. Now in its 83rd season, the town’s Tony Award–winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival presents a slew of plays — Shakespearean and contemporary, indoors and under the stars — throughout the summer. But Ashland itself shares top billing thanks to a friendly, small-town vibe, cute inns (the Bard's Inn, or Green Springs Inn, which has cabins), lush Lithia Park and excellent restaurants (Loft Brasserie & Bar, Hearsay). Outside town, you can hike or bike through evergreen forests and wildflower meadows, sample vintages at local wineries or shoot rapids on the Rogue River and still make it back for an evening curtain. The closest major airports are in Portland and Sacramento, both nearly 300 miles away, but there's a small one in nearby Medford, Ore. This is prime road trip country, though. If you're flying and have the time, consider adding Crater Lake and the gorgeous Oregon coast to your itinerary.
Santa Catalina Island, Calif.
“Twenty-six miles across the sea, Santa Catalina is a-waitin’ for me.” So goes the 1950s hit song, and it’s still true for the 1 million annual visitors who come by ferry, seaplane or even helicopter to this island southwest of Los Angeles. Most stay and play in tiny Avalon, a SoCal vision of la dolce vita, with two dozen inns and hotels and a harbor filled with bobbing pleasure craft. Beach lovers will find balmy waters perfect for swimming and paddleboarding, and offshore kelp forests can be explored by scuba, snorkel or glass-bottom boat. Hiking trails lace the rugged interior, and on 4WD tours you may spot descendants of bison imported for a 1920s movie shoot.
San Juan Islands, Wash.
The 172 named reefs, crags and isles of the San Juan Islands are scattered like moss-green pebbles across the waters of northwest Washington. You can reach the three main islands — Orcas, San Juan and Lopez — by seaplane, but to capture the islands’ slow-down groove, take the lumbering state ferries. In the “big town,” Friday Harbor (pop. 2,162), you’ll find boutiques and fine dining (Duck Soup, Backdoor Kitchen), as well as around two dozen hotels and inns. But the islands’ unique pleasures lie along bikeable country lanes, at u-pick berry or lavender farms, and aboard a boat when you’ve just spotted the black-and-white orcas that call these waters home.