Summer is one of the busiest travel times of the year, and the thought of miles of traffic on I-85 and packed airports are enough to make even the most experienced traveler want to stay home. But there's hope. Destinations both near and far from Atlanta experience their low season during the summer, meaning slashed travel costs, thinner crowds and in some cases, activities usually unavailable during that destination's peak season. Although you may have to deal with some triple digit temperatures or a spot thunderstorm, the trade off is more than fair. We spoke with Atlanta-based SmartFlyer travel agent Maggie Barton for her top destination and hotel picks for off-season summer travel.
Escape to the Mountains
Atlanta is just a short drive from some of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the nation, perfect for a weekend trip to escape the heat. "Just a short three and a half drive from Atlanta, the Great Smoky Mountain range is a great summer spot to cool off. Blackberry Farm (1471 W. Millers Cove Rd., Walland. 865-984-8166, blackberryfarm.com/) in nearby Walland, Tennessee, is an idyllic destination for romance and offers topnotch wine and dining. Couples will love hiking, biking, horseback riding, fly fishing, sporting clays and the fabulous spa," says Barton.
"Even closer at two hours from Atlanta, Highlands, North Carolina, is a great spot for a girl's getaway or guys golf trip. The charming Old Edwards Inn & Spa (445 Main St., Highlands. 866-526-8008, oldedwardsinn.com/) is in the heart of the mountaintop village, and you can walk right out to dining and antique shopping, or take a short drive for incredible mountain hiking, fly fishing, golf, and biking."
Rather stay in state? Head to the North Georgia mountains in and around Clayton for similar activities at your doorstep. Barton recommends the intimate Glen Ella Springs Inn (1789 Bear Gap Rd., Clarkesville. 706-754-7295, glenella.com/) in Clarkesville, a 16-room inn with fine dining and beautiful gardens bordering the Chattahoochee National Forest and south of Tallulah Falls. There's also the historic Lake Rabun Hotel & Restaurant (35 Andrea Ln., Lakemont. 706-782-4946, lakerabunhotel.com/), with eight luxurious and cozy rooms, an award-winning restaurant with farm to table local dining, extensive wine list and lake views. Spend the weekend on the water fishing, kayaking, white water rafting or leisurely relaxing on a pontoon cruise.
Deep South for deep discounts
For a real deal off season, there are several destination options in South Florida offering great rates, especially at high end resorts. "The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami (455 Grand Bay Dr., Key Biscayne. 305-365-4500, ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/miami/key-biscayne) cut their rates in half during the summertime, and offer great beach, tennis, and water sports. It's also a great spot to bike, hike, or paddle through the neighboring Biscayne National Park," says Barton. For families, Barton suggests Boca Raton, Florida, for a stay at the legendary Boca Raton Resort & Club (501 East Camino Real, Boca Raton. 888-543-1277, bocaresort.com/) Set on 356 beautiful acres, this legendary resort offers something for everyone – golf, tennis, white sand beaches and spa – but kids in particular will love learning to surf on the flow rider during Surf School, or perfecting their swing at Golf Academy.
If you can bear the heat and humidity, summer is the most affordable season to visit New Orleans and there's no shortage of activities. The summer months overlap with festival season, meaning you can still enjoy cultural festivals like the Cajun and Zydeco Festival held in June, the Tales of the Cocktail Festival in July and the Satchmo Summerfest honoring New Orleans' native son, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong. Cool off with a snowball from Hansen's Sno-Bliz (4801 Tchoupitoulas St., New Orleans. 504-891-9788, snobliz.com), and with the thinner crowds, you may not even have to wait in line. For a taste of jazz without leaving your hotel, head to the Davenport Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans (921 Canal St., New Orleans. 504-524-1331, ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/new-orleans) for a vocal and trumpet performance by local favorite Jeremy Davenport, Wednesday through Saturday evenings.
Wild Wild West
Even more deals are to be found in summer in the western portion of the U.S. "I love Scottsdale, Arizona, and Palm Springs, California, because most desert resorts offer golf, tennis and spa packages at a fraction of the winter rates," says Barton. Stay in an elegant casita at the JW Marriott Scottsdale Camelback Inn Resort & Spa (5402 E Lincoln Dr., Scottsdale. 480-948-1700, marriott.com/hotels/travel/phxcb-jw-marriott-scottsdale-camelback-inn-resort-and-spa/) and indulge in desert-specific spa treatments like the Natural Agave Toning Wrap made with Prickly Pear cactus gel. Off-season in the Colorado mountain towns of Crested Butte and Breckenridge offer activities unseen during the winter, like white water rafting, mountain biking, canyon horseback riding and fly fishing.
Spend Summer Abroad
"For an international travel, the best bang for your buck this summer is Mexico, Costa Rica or Bahamas. The dollar is strong, and it's a great time to explore the beaches, culture, nature, and history of these destinations without spending an arm and a leg or fighting the crowds," says Barton. In Riviera Maya, Mexico, you can snorkel through jungle caves at Rio Secreto underground river, or in Costa Rica try deep sea fishing, zip lines, ATV tours, and volcano hiking with waterfall repelling.
Looking for a further jaunt? "There are great deals to New Zealand, now that Air New Zealand has a new nonstop flight to Auckland from Houston," says Barton. "It's still a fantastic destination during their winter with the North Island offering balmy weather and ski season in full swing on South Island."