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5 epic West Coast destinations to discover this summer

Adventure awaits! Find the ultimate summer vacation in these top West Coast destinations. | By Matt Villano | June 8, 2023

Summer is a great time to explore the western United States. Whether you’re looking to hike peaks under foot, log miles in a kayak, try regional delicacies or hit one-of-a-kind attractions, the region is teeming with opportunities for adventure and fun. Here’s a look at some of the best summer vacation spots on the West Coast. Highlights include:

  • Mountain views: Enjoy prime peak-watching from Seattle’s longest beach

  • Endless entertainment: Find stunning shows and divine dining in Las Vegas

  • Tranquil explorations: Recharge your body and mind at vortex sites in Sedona

Couples in a vineyard
Embrace the relaxed vibe at one of San Luis Obispo’s many wineries.

San Luis Obispo, California

Locals call this Central California city SLO as an acronym but also as a reference to its laid-back vibe. San Luis Obispo is close to some of the best beaches in Central California, Paso Robles wine country and epic hiking trails with spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. Best of all, there’s plenty of adventure to be had in the summer months.

Hunt for sand dollars and fly kites along 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) Morro Strand State Beach in Morro Bay, about 10 minutes west of SLO. The beautiful beach sits in the shadow of the famous Morro Rock and is a great family-friendly day out.

Day trip one hour up the coast to Hearst Castle museum in San Simeon. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst spent nearly 30 years erecting this hill-top Spanish colonial estate, which features the famed, sculpture-framed Neptune Pool.

For a stay that’s close to it all, consider The Wayfarer San Luis Obispo, Tapestry Collection by Hilton. This boutique hotel is less than a mile from downtown SLO shops, restaurants and farmers markets, and offers comfortable accommodations with a relaxed style. The hotel is also only a short walk from the Tuesday night farmers market and a quick 15-minute drive from the Edna Valley winegrowing region and Chamisal Vineyards.

View of Seattle downtown skyline with Space Needle and Mt. Rainier in full sun
Scenic views of Seattle can be found throughout the city.

Seattle

In addition to being the gateway to adventure in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has developed a strong sense of pride and culture over the last 10-15 years. Start your visit with some of the best city views from the West Seattle neighborhood and a tiny peninsula of land called Alki Beach. Rent a bike and cruise the avenue along the shores of Puget Sound while you soak up the sights — to the east is the Seattle skyline, to the west, the snow-capped Olympic Mountains.

Located in the heart of downtown, The Spheres are giant globe-like structures home to more than 40,000 plants from the cloud forest regions of more than 30 countries, and well worth a visit. Public visitation to the urban garden is limited — The Spheres are open to guests by reservation during the first and third Saturday of each month, free of charge. Reservations are available 15 days in advance.

If you’re looking for a centrally located spot to stay, The Charter Hotel Seattle, Curio Collection by Hilton, is a winner. The sleek property is located one block from the famous Pike Place Market and within a mile of the Space Needle. At the end of the day, relax and take in skyline and water views from the property’s chic indoor-outdoor rooftop lounge, Fog Room.

DJ playing music at a concert
Amplify your stay with an unforgettable evening at one of Sin City's world-class nightclubs.

Las Vegas

Adventures unfold in Las Vegas at Area 15, an art and entertainment mecca. Watch sword-swallowers and magicians at the circus-like tour at Lost Spirits Distillery, which makes rum. Zoom down Fremont Street in style with the Slotzilla zipline. Seven stories above street level, it’s an unforgettable way to experience downtown Las Vegas.

There’s no shortage of dining options in Sin City, and the food scene is exploding at Resorts World Las Vegas. Specifically, Brezza, from chef Nicole Brisson, which was named one of the best Italian restaurants in the world.

For an outdoor excursion, get up early to avoid peak heat and hike Red Rock National Conservation Area, a tract of wild land 17 miles (27.3 kilometers) due west of the Las Vegas Strip. Depending on which trail you use, you might spot petroglyphs, encounter rock climbers or come face-to-face with a black-tailed jackrabbit.

Female hiker stands on the summit of Tom Dick and Harry Mountain in Mt. Hood National Forest, with her arms held up, looking at Mount Hood.
An outdoor enthusiast’s dream destination, Bend offers stunning scenery and summer adventures.

Bend, Oregon

Bend is arguably the hottest travel destination in all of Oregon right now, with a steady stream of transplants coming from California and all over. The city sits on the eastern side of the Cascades, putting it squarely in the high desert.

The mile-long (1.6-kilometer) Lava River Cave at Newberry National Volcanic Monument is the longest lava tube in Oregon and is accessible to the public. Visitors descend 55 steps into the cave and the tour takes about two hours. Inside the cave can be as cool as 42 F (5 C), even in summer, so bring warm clothes and sturdy shoes to traverse the sharp and potentially slippery rocks.

Learn more about the natural beauty of the area and get an up-close view of native wildlife by visiting Bend’s High Desert Museum. The museum brings regional wildlife, culture, art and natural resources together to promote an understanding of natural and cultural heritage of North America's high desert country. Another local highlight is the dozens of tiny breweries all over town. Stop in for a pint at the Deschutes Brewery, known for being a community gathering place since 1988.

woman doing yoga
Experience a state of tranquility while you explore Sedona’s energy vortices.

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona is a desert town that’s surrounded by red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. It offers some of the best hiking in the entire state — hikes that are not too steep but make you feel like you’re truly in the middle of nowhere. Devil’s Bridge trail (4 miles, 6.4 kilometer) is the most beloved hike in all of Sedona and takes hikers across the top of a natural sandstone archway.

Sedona also has a vibrant New Age scene due to the area’s vortex sites. These energy centers — there are four main vortices in Sedona: Airport Mesa, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock at Red Rock Crossing and Boynton Canyon — are thought to facilitate meditation, mind and body healing, prayer and creative thinking.

To be close to multiple great trailheads, stay at Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock. The resort, located less than a mile from Bell Rock, offers expansive suites, private balconies and patios and an 18-hole golf course on-site. You’ll also find a slew of fun activities, including sunrise poolside yoga classes, vortex classes, family-style fireside s’mores, stargazing and more.

There are literally dozens of summer vacation destinations across the West Coast — this is just a sampling of some of the best. So, grab your favorite travel buddies, golf clubs and hiking boots and prepare to have the ultimate summer getaway.

Freelance writer and editor Matt Villano has covered Las Vegas for more than 20 years — he has authored and co-authored 13 guidebooks about the city.

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