Beale street
Make a music pilgrimage to Memphis. | f11photo/Shutterstock
Make a music pilgrimage to Memphis. | f11photo/Shutterstock

Stretch Out Summer with These August Travel Ideas

We’ve got your starry nights, your oysters, and your bats. Get them all in before the season’s over.

This August, we do not lament the fleeting days of summer. No, we embrace it: There is still much to do—with or without the use of gas. August is a time for lazy exploration and indulging your whims, taking advantage of the last drops of the season while recharging for the months ahead. There are routes to be taken, seafood—and garlic—to be eaten, a joyous Caribbean carnival to parade in, and bats. All the fluttering bats.

Plus, stars to spark the imagination, both earthly and heavenly. Immerse yourself in music history stateside or abroad, or catch the spectacular Perseid meteor shower wherever you land. Get out there and make the most of it.

Take that road trip you've been putting off

Gasoline prices are (finally!) starting to decline, and just in time for a lazy, meandering late summer. If you’re in need of inspiration for where to hit the road, allow us to suggest Reroutinga choose-your-own-adventure guide to take you wherever your interests may lead.

Feeling artistic? Try the Artist’s Retreat route, beginning at an unlikely art-punk enclave in Whitesburg, Kentucky before taking you through roadside art restoration in Mississippi with the quirky towns of West Texas thrown in. Soak up the weird and wonderful on our Highway Oddity trail, and let the salt air whip through your hair on our East Coast Sea Change path. Sleep under dark skies, hike through otherworldly desert terrain, or pick and choose stops for your own custom journey.

And if you’re hitting the road, keep an eye out for deals: This summer’s hottest hotel amenity is the cash-money gas card. Places like Little America in Flagstaff, the Charles Hotel in Boston, Branson’s Hotel Grand Victorian, San Antonio’s Hotel Valencia, and several Marriotts and Holiday Inn Club Vacations resorts are offering deals and packages with a fueled-up bonus. So take the money and run. (Or, rather, take the money and drive.)

Or check out a city with free public transportation

Maybe you’d prefer to step away from the pump altogether and find other modes of transportation. Namely free transportation. Public transportation in cities like Tallinn, Estonia, Mariehamn, Finland, and Compiègne, France have been free for years, with the entire country of Luxembourg joining their ranks in 2020. See a list of cities worldwide with fully or partially compensated public transit here.

The list also includes a burgeoning new group: US cities. Like Albuquerque, New Mexico, which recently introduced a zero fares program through June 30, 2023. It joins Missoula, Montana, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Olympia, Washington.

There are also deals in certain areas of cities, like free trolleys in downtown Scottsdale and Miami, downtown bus routes in cities like Columbus, Ohio, and the grand ol’ orange Staten Island Ferry in New York. So what are you waiting for? Go see the world and save some money while you’re at it.

Feast on bivalves

Apparently, the waters of NYC are now so clean that dolphins have been spotted frolicking everywhere from the East River to Coney Island. Nobody really knows why, but it’s for sure helped by the efforts of the Governors’ Island-based Billion Oyster Project, whose goal is to repopulate the New York Harbor’s once thriving oyster economy by 2035. Beyond being tasty, the oysters help filter the water and offer shelter for marine life—which is exactly why we’re celebrating them this August 5, National Oyster Day.

And while those oysters aren’t yet edible, there are a few seafood festivals this month where you can suck down shellfish to your heart’s content. Check out the Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland (August 3 to 7), the Charlestown Seafood Festival in Rhode Island (August 5 to 7) and the Boston Seafood Festival on August 7.

But maybe you’d rather get your bivalves from the source. Take a trip down the Virginia Oyster Trail through the state’s eight oyster regions and hit a restaurant, tasting, or a farm tour like those at Pleasure House Oysters in Lynnhaven. Island Creek Oysters in Duxbury, Massachusetts offers hatchery tours aboard a boat complete with shucking lessons, while Hog Island Oysters in Marshall, California has three tour options to choose from, including the “Whole Hog,” which includes a tasting and a master class in shucking.

Or, you could always work a little for your reward. Blue Island Oysters in the Great South Bay of Long Island offers kayak tours of their farm, finished off with a lobster roll lunch and plenty of oysters, with views of the Fire Island lighthouse. Or head up to Bar Harbor Oyster Company in Maine for a kayak excursion in conjunction with Maine State Sea Kayak. Paddle out to their farm for a tour and tasting, fresh from the water. Tours happen twice a week, now through August.

Surrender to the stars

How about those James Webb telescope photos, huh? Boy, is deep space incredibly old, incredibly gorgeous, and 100% populated. There’s no way we’re the only ones bopping around this universe. It makes you wanna get up in there and start introducing yourself around.

While you might not get the chance to explore actual space in person, you can experience what it’s like to be an interstellar traveler. Yup, we’re talking about none other than adult space camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Just like the junior campers, grown-up participants get access to the planetarium and get to do things like play in the multi-axis trainer (which simulates an aircraft tumble), build a model rocket, wear a flight suit, and participate in a simulated space mission. Not to mention be the envy of all their friends. There are still spots for the three day course in October and December, but you should probably book now.

Even if Space Camp’s not in the cards, there’s still a way to metaphorically float away in the open skies. Set a reminder for August 12 and 13 to catch the peak of the annual Perseids meteor shower, one of the universe’s most visually stunning showers with up to 60 meteors per hour at its most active. Find yourself a dark place and settle in (with a telescope, if you have one). On August 14, Saturn will be at its closest approach to earth, shining its very brightest thanks to the illumination of the sun.

Follow the music history trail in Memphis

Thanks to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic, ol’ snake hips is back shakin’ up the news. And with him, interest in the region so intertwined with his history, from his birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi (another Elvis nickname: Tupelo Tornado) where you can see the house where he was born, his childhood church, and the hardware store where he bought his first guitar, to his musical rise in the great city of Memphis, about an hour and forty five minutes away by car.

Slip into the Elvis Booth at the Arcade Restaurant, where the Memphis Flash (another nickname) ordered many a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, or scarf down a Barbecue Pizza in the Elvis Room of Coletta’s. Shop “like a king” at Lansky Brothers, or take a guided tour of Sun Studio, where Presley once recorded. Swing through the Overton Park Shell, the outdoor amphitheater where he played his first paid gig (and which now hosts a lineup of free shows from spring through fall) and, of course, hop on a tour of Graceland and all the mythology it holds.

But keep in mind: Music history in Memphis goes so much deeper than the Tiger Man, or Vibrating Valentino (we could do this forever, there are so many Elvis nicknames). Sun Studio, launched by Sam Phillips in 1952, kicked off the careers of legends like B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf before becoming a hub for artists like Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Rich, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and many more.

And then there’s Memphis soul. Just a short distance from downtown is Soulsville, home of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Now a museum, it was formerly the site of Stax Records, which recorded powerhouse artists like Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Al Green, and Aretha Franklin. Get an overview at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, which both pay homage to the people that built and continue to rock the Memphis sound. When you’re done, see what all the fuss is about with a show—and some barbecue—on nearby Beale Street.

Visit a glamorous Swiss town with rock n’ roll in its veins

You could plan all your vacations around music pilgrimages, if you were so inclined. Abbey Road Studios in London for Beatles fans, Paisley Park in Minnesota for Prince acolytes. Dollywood, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Woodstock, Preservation Hall in New Orleans, and Slane Castle in Ireland—a castle saved by its concerts. And all of Nashville.

But none would bring you more glamor and smoke—literally—than Montreux, Switzerland. Home of the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival held every June, it’s also famously the setting for Deep Purple’s song “Smoke on the Water.” The smoke? A fire that turned the Montreux Casino to rubble. The water? Lake Geneva.

Montreux was also the final home of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. You can tour his house and visit the studio where his band recorded 15 albums, including their final one. It’s now a museum, stocked with costumes, artifacts, and a studio where visitors can remix Queen songs. Finally, pose for a pic with the Freddie Mercury statue, raising your arm in triumph alongside the storied rock icon. Then you should probably turn to Freddie and say, “We are the champions.” He’ll get it.

Find some culture in the Caribbean

St. Kitts and Nevis in the Eastern Caribbean might be sister isles, but they pride themselves on their distinct personalities. St. Kitts is like the laid-back, older sibling, grounded in its history and rife with chill, uncrowded beaches. While Nevis—probably now best known as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton—sports luxury properties, celebrity sightings, and sought-after wreck- and reef-diving.

From July 21 to August 2, Nevis throws Culturama, a 12-day carnival with parties and cultural traditions or, as they say, “De Caribbean’s greatest summer lime.” It always concludes over Emancipation Weekend, marking the day when when slavery was finally abolished in the Caribbean back in 1834. Emancipation Day is held annually on the first Monday in August, and while the tone in St. Kitts is more somber, usually consisting of a concert at the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park (built by the enslaved), Nevis goes all out with parades, J’ouvert, food, and drink, their own way of paying homage to the folklore of the enslaved.

Go batty

Austin, Texas goes batty each August, leaning into their rank as the best place in the US to witness bat migration. The urban Mexican Free-Tailed bats set up shop under the city’s Congress Avenue Bridge, which, after a renovation in 1980, apparently makes for a great bat cave. And from late March to early fall, the fuzzy nocturnal fliers put on a nightly show, emerging and fanning out over Lady Bird Lake and paying their rent by helping mitigate the mosquito and agricultural pest population.

There are plenty of spots to witness the phenomenon, but it’s probably most fun from the middle of the lake via a cruise, kayak, or paddleboard. And if you’re there in August—AKA peak migrating season—you’ll definitely want to hit Bat Fest on August 27, a bat-viewing extravaganza with local food and drink, crafts, and a musical lineup including the Toadies, Bun B, Fetty Wap, and Chamillionaire. Plus! A bat costume competition.

For a batty National Park experience, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico hosts 17 species of bats that swirl out of the caves in a spectacular nightly flight. Through October, there’s a free bat flight program with ranger talks at the amphitheater near the cave entrance. And if you find yourself up from 4 to 6 am, you can get a second show, as the winged critters dive from incredible heights back into the caves in search of sleep.

For something more remote and private, New Mexico’s Jornada del Muerto Volcano hosts one of the largest populations of Mexican Free-Tailed bats in the US in its underground lava tubes. They’re located on the 362,000-acre Armendaris Ranch, owned by media tycoon Ted Turner (if you’ve driven to Truth or Consequences, you most likely have driven on some Turner-owned land.)

Besides the caves, the land also includes 42 miles of the historic Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, a 1,000-mile trail from Mexico City to Santa Fe, alongside conservation initiatives covering bison, pronghorn, desert bighorn sheep, and other vital wildlife. And it’s all accessible—if, of course, you feel especially baller and rent out one of Turner’s properties. Ladder Ranch, adjacent to Amendaris, sleeps 11 and begins at $6,000 a night through Explore Ranches, a ranch rental site. It comes with your own guide to explore Native American history, a bison expedition, trekking through an abandoned mining town, hot air balloon tours, and more, including, of course, your own private bat show.

Get garlic breath in California

The celebrated Gilroy Garlic fest may be canceled indefinitely, but never fear—Stockton, California has taken up the garlicky mantle (without, it should be said, cooperation or consent from Gilroy). The first California Garlic Festival goes down this August 13 and 14 in the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, brought to you by the folks behind the San Joaquin Asparagus Festival. They’re promising a hot rod show, scholarship pageant, monster truck rides, and cooking demos. Plus their own “Cali Garlic Alley” with garlic fries, garlic pesto, and onion bread bowls, and for the adventurous, maple brown sugar garlic ice cream. Definitely not making the trip? Vampires.

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. Somebody tell Ted Turner she would like to see some bats.