3. Lake Michigan – Chicago, Illinois
Lake Michigan spans 22,394 square miles—seriously, they don’t call it a Great Lake for nothing—but the majority of boaters on its gargantuan expanse can be found less than a nautical mile offshore, in a break-wall-protected expanse known as the Playpen. Stretching between Oak Street on the north and the Jardine Water Filtration Plant on the south, this no-wake zone provides sensational views of the city skyline as well as a sprawling flotilla of private party boats. But you’re much better off letting someone else do the piloting, and the waterfront offers a truly amazing range of party-boat options. Hit up Navy Pier, DuSable Harbor or North Michigan Avenue for cocktail cruises, tiki-themed vessels, beer-and-barbecue tours, even floating comedy shows. Chicagoans may not have a long summer, but they know how to make the most of it.
4. Catalina Island – California
Boating is an every-day, year-round activity on Catalina Island, a serene gem located in the Pacific Ocean 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles. But the “season” runs from March through October, prime time for embarking on fish/tour/party cruises, “boat-in camping” trips to one of 17 secluded sites along the island’s shore (reservations required), or, as a high-adrenaline alternative, a speedboat tour that deliberately seeks massive waves to fly over, in case you wanted a rough idea of what big-wave surfing is like. (Save the drinks till after, natch). Other highlights on Catalina include Buccaneer Days, a weekend festival featuring daily live bands, DJs, pirate costume contests and treasure hunts; and of course, the Step Brothers–inspired Catalina Wine Mixer, a three-day affair featuring a screening of the film, a costume party, live music, and DJ’s.
5. Lake Tahoe – Nevada and California
In the average year, there are 274 days of sunshine on Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, which sits on the California-Nevada border. It’s ringed by dazzling mountain ranges and towering pines, and the water is 99.7 percent pure—and so clear you can see objects in it at depths of up to 75 feet. All this adds up to an absolutely world-class site for people looking to have a great time on the water. Zephyr Cove is the most high-energy party spot, featuring beach volleyball, waterfront bars, and lounge areas, as well as luxury resorts and, of course, group party-boat options.