puerto rico
Picture yourself in Puerto Rico. | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist
Picture yourself in Puerto Rico. | Photo by Cole Saladino for Thrillist

Beat the Heat With These July Travel Ideas

From pig races to garlic festivals.

This month very literally kicks off with a bang, whether you’re gazing up at fireworks from the street in New York, on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, at the harbor in Newport, or in any one of these cities across the country that go extra big for the 4th. But after the fireworks and the stuffing your face with hot dogs… then what?

Then, friends, we take it easy. July is a month for lazy vacations, toasty temperatures, sandy beaches, and luxuriously taste-testing all the flavors of ice cream (or canned cocktails—you do you). Whether you’re sticking close to home for weekend adventures or venturing out—possibly for the first time in over a year, you got this!—we present to you: the best places to travel in July.

Post up on a gorgeous beach

How ‘bout this heat wave, huh? Pack us in ice already. Or better yet, ship us off to a beach. For a gorgeous Mexican beach close in proximity but mentally miles away from the throngs of Cancun, try Isla Holbox in Quintana Roo; one of most beautiful beaches in the world, this tiny, car-free island has flamingo-filled waters and fresh—like right out of the water fresh—seafood. Or, now that Europe is opening up, maybe the Amalfi Coast is more your speed, or any one of these sandy European stunners

It’s nice to dream, but if you’re staying stateside this summer, you can still find an above-average spot to stake an umbrella in Florida, SoCal, Michigan, Maryland, Cape Cod, Oregon, and good ‘ol New Jersey. Hell, even Texas has beaches, but if you’re not near a coast, go find yourself a lazy river instead.

Eat like a king in Puerto Rico

You know who has beautiful beaches? Puerto Rico. The Island of Enchantment is also home to three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays, America’s only tropical rainforest, chill surfer towns, tons of culture and indigenous pride, rum, something called Rumgria, and seriously good food

So don’t just stick to San Juan. The island recently launched an internal “pasaporte” program, where visitors can pick up passport-like booklets at city halls (or just utilize the website), to guide them to 78 different cities and regions. If you want to travel like a local, this is the way to do it. 

We might recommend driving out to the mountainous small town of Naranjito, about 45 minutes from San Juan. It’s always been a destination for food-centric pub crawls, or chinchorreos; now there’s a full-on gastro map to follow along Route 152. The route takes you from chinchorros with classic comida criolla, to the updated traditional offerings of El Limbo Bar and BBQ (which also has incredible—and dangerous—passion fruit mojitos), to the family-run Rancho de las Longanizas where you’ll walk out smelling of smoked meat, to the upscale Calichi and Asador San Miguel, both offering gourmet food with tropical mountain views. You might want to hire a driver for this one.

Bet on the pig races in Montana

Whether it’s hiking and skiing in Big Sky, exploring funky Old West-style art towns like Livingston, or bar hopping in downtown Bozeman, there’s no bad reason to go to Montana. New direct flights are being added daily; JetBlue now flies there straight from JFK, dropping you right near Glacier National Park. (Heads up, Glacier is requiring a special reservation ticket to enter certain parts of the park through September. More info here.)

But hear us out: perhaps the best reason to go to Montana right now is the summertime sport of pig racing, happening every weekend through Labor Day in Bearcreek.  They call it the Bear Creek Downs, held at Bear Creek Saloon and Steakhouse, in this tiny town north of Yellowstone, population 79. The pigs are not even remotely fast, but they are adorable, wear sponsored jerseys and have names like "Pumpkin Butt,” "Raquel Belch," and "Notta Hot Dog.” Pigs in jerseys! You can bet on the races and the money goes towards local scholarships. We see no downsides to this.

See what’s new on the Strip in Las Vegas

Vegas is slowly beginning to sparkle again, and comes with new toys to play with. Elon Musk’s Resorts World just opened on the Strip, with a food court styled after a Singapore hawkers market, a venue built specifically for queen Celine Dion, underground tunnels with Tesla transportation, and 117,000 square feet of gaming space. Space travel wasn’t enough—Musk basically built himself his own planet. 

While you’re in Vegas, dip into Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart, a grocery store that’s actually a trippy immersive funhouse. And if you’re in the mood for a desert road trip, go explore Area 51 and see what they’re chatting about in Little A’Le’Inn, the Cheers of the alien-loving set. The recently-released government UFO report may have been “inconclusive,” but at the bar they definitely know what’s up.

Try Park City in the off season

Utah’s Park City and its surrounding areas are synonymous with snow and winter sports, but you can definitely still play in the off-season. If you really want to see what you’re made of, check out the 400-acre Utah Olympic Park, built for the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games, with an oval speed skating ring (where you can apparently also do glow-in-the-dark “cosmic curling”), summer bobsledding, extreme tubing, an alpine slideairbag jumps, ziplining, a drop tower, scenic chairlifts, and more.

For something less strenuous, the Deer Valley Music Festival—summer home of the Utah Symphony—performs outdoors for eight weeks in July and August, accompanying artists like Kool and the Gang (July 9), Kristin Chenoweth (July 10), and the Beach Boys (August 6). 

And did you know that the famously strict Utah was the deciding vote to end Prohibition? And now they have the world’s only ski-in, ski (or stumble)-out distillery at High West whiskey. Take home a bottle of their American Prairie Bourbon and snooze soundly knowing your dollars went towards preserving the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48. Progress!

Check into a cool (air-conditioned and otherwise) hotel in San Antonio

If you like your hotels with some scandalous—and boozy—history, head on down to Hotel Emma in San Antonio, whose origin story involves beer, a philanderer, and three ladies named Emma. Formerly the Pearl brewery, the surrounding neighborhood has been revamped as a culinary destination with restaurants, bars, a farmer’s market, and one of the country’s three hubs of the Culinary Institute of America. And it’s right on the Riverwalk, walking distance to downtown and the San Antonio Museum of Art (if you’d rather not walk in the Texas heat, opt for a river taxi).

Soak up the sun in Alaska

Summer in the 49th state is its own kind of magic, where the sun barely sets (so much so that there’s a midnight baseball game on the solstice), so there’s ample time to get all your outdoor activities in. Soak in hot springs at the Chena Hot Springs resort, hike in the midnight sun, trek on, drive by, or go in a massive glacier, spot bears at Katmai National Park, or go kayaking… basically anywhere.  Summer is also time for tidepooling—where tides have sucked the sea out, exposing rocks and sea stars, anemones and marine invertebrates. Go on your own (just make sure you have adequate galoshes), or take a free tour at Bishop’s Beach, led by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. 

Or stick to city life: Pride month may be over, but Anchorage has a somewhat surprisingly robust LGBTQ+ scene, with one of the best drag bars in the country in Mad Myrna’s, (tagline: “Over 22 years of fabulous in the last frontier. We’re all a little mad here”). Weekend drag shows attract local talent and Drag Race superstars like Alaska Thunderfuck.  And it’s newly renovated, with even more room for over-the-top entertainment. Expect big things.

Get garlic breath in Gilroy, California

The history of the Gilroy Garlic Festival goes back to 1978, when in fine competitive form it was launched to compete with a small French town who claimed to be the "Garlic Capital of the World." The beloved and smelly event is back for its 41st year in Covid-friendly, drive-thru form, spread out over two weekends: July 23-25 and July 30-Aug. 1. Hit the reimagined Drive-Thru Gourmet Alley, with favorites for sale like pepper steak sandwiches, scampi, and garlic bread that they say is world-famous. There’s also a farm-to-table dinner and a golf tournament, with proceeds distributed among various community groups.  

Self-isolate with your garlic breath at the new Wylder Hope Valley all-season alpine resort, located on 165 acres in California’s least populated county. Pick one of 30 restored cabins, seven yurts, or a vintage trailer on the river, or bring your own RV or tent and set up shop. Hike, swim, fish, do a dance, or take a trip to nearby Grover Hot Springs State Park, where you can take a soothing soak in spring-fed pools.

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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer. She's never not dreaming of Puerto Rico.