Kurt Weinsheimer
Kurt Weinsheimer

As the winter thaws into spring, many people in the U.S. are packing away their parkas and pulling out their sandals in anticipation of warmer weather and summer plans. We at Sojern wanted to understand the top destinations for this year's summer vacations, so we looked at U.S. hotel searches so far this year to see where people are looking to book summer travel between June 1 and Sept. 15.

As one might expect, the usual suspects, such as New York, San Francisco and Chicago, held top 10 positions. But to understand broader trends, we dug a little deeper into destinations Nos. 11 to 50 and discovered many markets beyond those typically traveled.

From a volume standpoint, it's important to note that the top 10 markets definitely dominate, making up about 37% of all hotel searches. So don't dismiss Las Vegas yet. However, destinations Nos. 11 through 50 represent 20% of all summer searches and thousands of travelers, making them worthy of discovery.

A third are beachy

When one thinks of summer, sand and surf are often the first things to come to mind. When looking beyond the top 10, 36% of the locations people are looking to book are known for their beaches.

Florida, in particular, has the most cities on the list, with one in the top 10 and nine more in the top 50.

Florida alone accounts for 20% of the top 50 destinations for the summer.

Honolulu takes spot No. 5, and two other Hawaiian destinations make the list. With its beaches and lots of outdoors activities, Hawaii offers something for everyone.

Theme parks drive family fun

Besides spending a week at the beach, summer vacation also means heading to the major theme parks, and 12% of the top 50 list are known for just that.

Anaheim, Calif., is No. 16, suggesting that Disneyland and California Adventure will be busy this summer.

Orlando claims the third spot and nearby Kissimmee also makes the top 50, suggesting that Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando are drawing plenty of summer tourists. San Diego, with Legoland, its world-famous zoo and SeaWorld, takes spot No. 10.

Pigeon Forge, Tenn., also makes the top 50. If you aren't familiar with the area, it's home to Dollywood, Dolly Parton's Appalachian-themed park.

Call of the wild

Also in Tennessee, and at No. 40 on the list, is Gatlinburg, known as the gateway to the Smoky Mountains and the perfect launching point for summer hiking along the Appalachian Trail. Rapid City, S.D., No. 46 on the list, might not be an easily recognizable name, but it boasts a lot of hiking as well as quick access to Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park.

A number of other green spots make the list: Salt Lake City, Denver and Portland, Ore., all make the top 50. So 14% of the places on the list are spots known for their access to the great outdoors.

Finally, for the truly wild at heart, Anchorage takes the 25th slot. Between the midnight sun, access to Denali National Park and popular coastal cruises, Alaska makes a logical summer destination.

Things to consider

Looking at hotel bookings for the summer reveals some interesting trends and markets, such as the pull of national parks and theme parks on tourists.

Markets like Kissimmee, Gatlinburg and Anchorage should definitely be on your radar. Searchers are showing us that while the top markets remain the major players any time of year, there's something about summer that makes travelers think beyond the big cities.

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