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10 great places for a last blast of summer

Jenny Adams
August 15, 2012

Summer. Of all four seasons, she’s got the most personality and the brightest enthusiasm. She throws wicked parties and sports a stellar wardrobe. It’s no wonder that in late August, many of us feel the need to send her off with a worthy, last hurrah. Pack the cooler, grab a leash for Fido and don’t forget your sunglasses – Yahoo Travel has rounded up best spots to soak up the last drops of that dip-in-the-pool, sand-in-your-hair, charcoal-on-the-grill goodness that is an American summer. 

Pismo Beach, Calif.

Located almost equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles, Pismo Beach first got dubbed as the “Clam Capital of the World” in the 1950s. Back then, the clam population was so thriving, you could literally shovel them off the sand by the dozens. No longer the case thanks to overharvesting, the place still makes headlines for its great surfing, soft sand beaches and quaint charms, like the weekly farmer’s market held on the historic pier. It’s not only the surf that pulls people to Pismo, however. You can tee off at one of four golf courses, tour the 20 vineyards in the surrounding wine country, get an aerial view in a WWII biplane or strap yourself inside a Humvee for a thrill ride across the region’s natural sand dunes. They make up some of the largest in North America.

HINT: If you revisit in the fall, you can witness the annual influx of thousands of Monarch butterflies that spend the winter in the Pismo trees.

Kelley's Island, Ohio

You don’t need to fly to the Caribbean to dive for sunken treasure. Ohio’s got you covered. The waters just off Kelley’s Island are home to several scuba-worthy shipwrecks, dating back to the 1700s. On land, the historic perks continue. You can traverse 600 acres of natural beauty, including a phenomenon known as Glacial Grooves, which were caused when the ancient glaciers melted at the end of the Ice Age.
There is fantastic bird watching along the protected wetlands, a limestone rock quarry, and 17 stunning miles of sandy coastline. Kelley’s is the largest, freshwater island in Lake Erie, and situated on the western side, it’s mere miles from the border of Canada. Spend your nights in one of the dozens of charming, cottage homes or tour one of the sprawling Victorian mansions by day. They all helped earn this island a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

You can bring your car on the ferry over, but a better experience is to rent a bike for the weekend to get a more up close, local view.

Fire Island, N.Y.

A mere hour outside of Manhattan, Fire Island is where we suspect the people who live year-round in the Hamptons might sneak off to for escape. The small community has been cultivating a bohemian, avant-garde vibe for decades. Fire Island loves to throw a party once the sun sinks into the sea, and the residents here pride themselves on open minds and easy-going attitudes. The mid-summer Invasion of the Pines Party is a legendary drag queen parade, which marches on land through the streets and continues on water with a packed ferryboat cruise. It’s a rare spot, nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and Great South Bay, which offers secluded, pristine sections of beach with a strictly enforced no-car policy on the island.

The sandbar surf breaks here are considered some of the best on the northeastern seaboard, and the island’s four sailing schools have cultivated generations of friendly rivalry, happily resulting in annual regattas. One life-long resident aptly described it: “If the Hampton’s idea of lunch is in a 4-star restaurant, complete with high heels and a tea-cup poodle, Fire Island’s take on lunch is a picnic on the beach, barefoot with a golden retriever.”

HINT: This island’s draw of small, beach cottage accommodations can also be a drawback. If you can, reserve early to ensure a spot, but last minute deals are also possible from cancellations. Watch Hill Marina & Camp Ground also offers the island’s only camping sites.

Telluride, Colo.

This mountain town will take your breath away. Literally. Perched at nearly 9,000 feet in elevation, there’s one road in and one road out. Yet, the opportunities for outdoor adventure stretch beyond town center in a thousand different directions. Once your eyes take in the sheer beauty of Bridal Veil Falls cascading in the distance, the verdant green leaves rippling on the Aspen trees, and the charm of the tiny, historic gingerbread homes, you’ll need a day planner just to schedule the insane amount of outdoor adventure.

There’s trail riding, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, rock climbing, kayaking, river rafting, jeep tours and balloon rides. And, while the town’s population might only hover around 3,000 people, the spot is legendary when it comes to hosting festivals that make international headlines annually. There’s Blues & Brews, the Bluegrass Festival, the yearly Jazz Celebration, and Labor Day salutes the men and women of the silver screen with the acclaimed Telluride Film Festival.

HINT: Tom Cruise owns a house here, so keep your iPhone camera at the ready.

The Everglades, Marco Island & Naples, Fla.

Unless you live under a rock somewhere far, far away from America, you know the obvious reasons for visiting the Everglades. Let’s face it … no matter if your 14 or 40, alligators are just cool. Who doesn’t want to sit in a wobbling canoe and watch the world’s last remaining dinosaurs thrash around in a swamp?
However, there’s much more to see and do in this coastal, protected wetland beyond outrageous reptile encounters. The Everglades are comprised of literally thousands of islands and an almost equal number of tour companies, with packages ranging from peaceful walking tours to bicycle rides beneath the cypress canopies to backcountry, multi-day fishing excursions. Abutting the national preserve, stay along the white sand beaches of Marco Island and Naples, where you can pamper all five senses with elegant restaurants, renowned spas, luxury accommodations and couture shopping experiences.

HINT: August and September are the wet season for the Everglades. While you should prepare for extra mosquitoes, afternoon thunderstorms and 100-percent humidity 100 percent of the time, you will likely also find a more personal connection to the swamp. There’s the beauty of solitude in the low tourist season, and the added bonus of lower tour rates.

Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.

Feeling like you might need a vacation from the heat? The Lake of the Ozarks is encircled by more than 1,000 miles of shoreline, and the crisp, cold water begs you to dive in for the expected activities of wake boarding, skiing, swimming and boating. The region is also home to another way to cool down, however. The natural grottos inside of the areas cave formations stay an average 58 degrees year round and tours run in most of them daily. There’s Bridal Cave – once believed to be the site of an ancient Indian wedding – where you can actually get married inside. Already hitched? Check out Ozark Caverns, where a dramatic, indoor waterfall pours out of seemingly solid, black rock. The region is also home to Ha Ha Tonka, a 2,500-acre park built around the ruins of a castle that burned in 1942. There are more caves to explore here, as well as underground streams, natural bridges, karst rock formations and the 12th largest spring in the state.

HINT: The area is prime of golfing. The Osage National course features 27 holes, 18 of which were designed by legendary pro, Arnold Palmer, and the neighboring Old Kinderhook course is a Tom Weiskopf Signature Course.

Hill City, S.D.

To say Hill City is quaint and/or charming might be an understatement. Their big attraction in September is the annual Quilt Show, if that’s any indication. To say it’s centrally located to some of South Dakota’s most illustrious activities, historical wonders and scenic tours would definitely be an understatement. The town, first settled by miners in 1876, now offers an abundance of accommodations ranging from luxury to rustic, as well as a broad collection of shops, restaurants and galleries. The reason most choose Hill City when visiting South Dakota, however, is its proximity to Mount Rushmore (30 minutes by car), the gambling halls of Deadwood (31 miles away) and the fact that it’s a short drive to the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway (a 17-miles stretch that’s considered one of the prettiest drives in North America).

The carving of Crazy Horse is just five minutes shy of Hill City. At an awe-inspiring 560 feet high, it stands as the world’s largest in-progress sculpture. You can also board the 1880 Train in Hill City. It’s an authentic railway that once ran between several of the regions towns during the Gold Rush. The train now winds visitors through the Black Hills backcountry, depositing them at the base of Mount Rushmore in less than an hour.

When the days comes to a close, visitors return to true Dakota style in the form of dining and nightlife options like the Circle B Cowboys. This barn dinner is held each evening through the fall, with an authentic gun shootout that starts promptly at 5:50p.m. Afterall, nothing brings on an appetite like explosions!

HINT: The Mickelson Trail Trek is a bike ride that occurs annually during the third week in September starts from Hill City. More than 500 people join this three-day pedal that passes through the many attractions of the Black Hills region.

Port Aransas on Mustang Island, Texas

Wild Mustang horses once galloped across the dunes of this Gulf Coast barrier island. Cowboys eventually rounded up the stallions, and the town’s population began driving cars. It has remained – in that spirit of horsepower – one of the only beaches in North America where you can still drive on the actual sand. In fact, you can park your car right at the water’s edge in some spots, pop the tailgate down and have a picnic. Of the 18 miles of beach here, approximately 15 miles are open to driving. There’s deep-sea fishing, parasailing and kite boarding during the day, and exceptional plates of fresh Gulf Coast seafood to enjoy at the local restaurants at night. One of the most popular activities is to hop a jetty boat to the neighboring, private San Jose Island. The foot-traffic-only policy and the uncombed the beaches create an environment prime for shell collecting.

Want the experience of driving on a beach, but hate the thought of sand on your floorboards? Rent one of Mustang Island’s signature, open air beach buggies for an afternoon spin.

Whitefish, Mont.

Good things come to those who work for them. Yes, Whitefish, Montana, located in the top northwest corner of the state, is a bit harder to access than some other destination mountain towns like Aspen or Vail. For your extra effort, you are rewarded with … well …  everything. There are more mammal species in Montana than any other state, and one study estimates that there are roughly 1.5 elk per acre and 3.3 deer. (At this time, Yahoo Travel does not know exactly which part of the deer constitutes that other 0.3 percent). The region boasts some of the cleanest and most abundant lakes and rivers in North America, including the epic Flathead Lake. Flathead has over 200 square miles of water to enjoy and 185 miles of shoreline, making it the largest natural freshwater lake in the West.

The area’s teeming rivers create what is arguably the best fly fishing on the planet, and the tiny town of Whitefish sits in a central location to enjoy it all. The town is decorated by a mix of small, historic railroad houses and beautiful, modern-day log cabins and lodges. Founded back in 1883, it’s grown to include an array of restaurants, art galleries, bars and shopping, all contributing to a convivial atmosphere that’s especially evident along the restored historic storefronts of Main Street.

HINT: One of the most visited national wonders in the country, Glacier National Park, is only a few miles down the road from downtown Whitefish. It offers century-old log hotels, 700 miles of hiking trails, 250 lakes and a staggering abundance of wildlife.

Isle Royale, Mich.

Welcome to the least visited National Park in America. If you truly want to get off the grid and escape to the wilds, this is your island. Located near the western edge of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is only accessible by boat or float plane. The year-round natives are the predatory Grey Wolf and the North American Moose – a.k.a. wolf chow. Aside from those, it’s just you and a forest of trees, shimmering dark blue water and the occasional flock of migrating sea birds. Most people opt to camp on Isle Royale, to make full use of the 160 miles of hiking trails. There’s an outfitter to rent boats, from motor to kayak, and for those less into “roughing” and more into pampering, there is a single lodge with accommodations.

HINT: Best song to download before heading to Isle Royale? “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel.