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june13homespunweb.jpgBy Gary A. Warner

RISMEDIA, June 13, 2008-(MCT)-Everyone knows that summer really starts on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day (Thursday night if you plan to call in sick) and comes to a crashing halt when the alarm clock rings on the Tuesday morning after Labor Day. So get out that big magic marker and mark your calendar to remember to mentally downshift from now to Sept. 2. In celebration, here are five must-read summer lists.

Five Cool Summer Spots

If you want to jump-start your summer, head to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Tucson or Dallas-Fort Worth, which have the highest average summertime temperatures. But most of us are looking for a place to cool down when things get hot. Here’s where to go to literally chill.

San Francisco: Mark Twain didn’t actually say “the coldest winter of my life was a summer in San Francisco,” but he’d probably like the turn of phrase. It sums up a truth: No part of a city in the lower 48 states is cooler during the summer than the west side of San Francisco. I can hear those foghorns now. October is actually warmer than July.

Seattle: The locals feel like it rains all the time (and even in summer, you can get doused), but this is a great time to visit Seattle. When the skies clear you will have beautiful shirt-sleeve days, a favorite time to visit Gig Harbor or one of the other spots sprinkled around Puget Sound or go out to Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula. But the evenings will often see visitors grabbing a sweater for a night on the town. On a clear day you can see the snow on top of Mount Rainier, especially from the observation area of the Space Needle.

San Diego: Though it casts itself as a classic sunny, Southern California summer spot, San Diego is actually the epitome of meteorological mildness. Among major American cities, it ranks third, behind San Francisco and Seattle, for the lowest average daily high temperature during June, July and August. The summer thermometer readings usually top out at 75 degrees. Sweet.

Portland: Oregon’s biggest city can have hot spells, but it’s another Top 5 cool spot for average summer temperatures. If it does warm up, so much the better for the city’s well-known microbreweries and beer gardens, where the only sweat is on a glass of ale. If you want it even colder, head a few hours west to the coast, where summer by the Pacific Ocean won’t remind you of any Beach Boys song.

Fairbanks: An urban refrigerator much of the year, the Alaskan city thaws out for the short summer highlighted by long days. To the south is Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in the United States.

But the real adventures are to the north, courtesy of two of the most magnificent but least-visited national parks-Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley. I prefer the latter part of the summer, around early August, when the unofficial state bird of Alaska-the mosquito-dies down.

Five Up-All-Night Summer Cities

If a town broils in the day, there is a good chance it has a warm summer glow at night. Some cities with brutal noon sun are my favorite nocturnal haunts on an August night.

Las Vegas: Triple digits in the desert and hordes on the weekends make a summer daytime on the Strip a hard, sweaty slog. Better to wait for the night, when America’s “city of lights” turns on and turns it up. My favorite neon: the Flamingo. Favorite nighttime hotel: the Palms. Favorite night’s sleep: Red Rock in Summerlin, far from the action.

Miami Beach: The beautiful people sweat out the day at the beach, but the action really starts up after dark, when Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue become rivers of people. The deco district has some of the best neon in the country. I love to visit but usually sleep elsewhere in town. It can be tough to get your beauty sleep when the volume of life is on roar around small boutique hotels like the Tides, Colony or Delano.

New Orleans: Summer starts sometime around March and lasts into October. Though ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, the old core of the city is on the rebound, and the people are glad to have you. At night, it is best not to wander far from the French Quarter, but my favorite nighttime spots are the jazz clubs and restaurants (especially Praline Connection) just to the east in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood.

Palm Springs: In the summer, that old “P.S., I love you” slogan is only good for the p.m. The 100-plus Fahrenheit days drive down hotel prices, especially midweek. The secret is to rest up during the day, take a dip in the hotel pool in the afternoon, then head out just when the sky over San Jacinto turns from dark blue to inky black. My favorite nighttime spot is actually in neighboring Palm Desert, where the El Paseo shopping and eating district stays up late.

Los Angeles: Smog so thick you can barely see the Hollywood sign during the day. Warm nights with all those red taillights streaking along the Sunset Strip. I’ve lived most of my life in Southern California, and as the Doors sang so long ago, Los Angeles is “the city of night.”

Five Great Summer Beaches in Hawaii

The weather doesn’t radically change in Hawaii, but one thing that does shift around is the surf. Winter means heavy pounding of northern shores on the islands, while summer means surf’s up on the south. Among the dozens of great beaches, a few favorites.

Poipu, Kauai: Across from Brennecke’s Broiler restaurant on the south end of Kauai is a pair of perfect beaches. Brennecke’s Beach is the place to go body boarding or roll around in the crashing surf. But just to the west is Poipu Beach, with a rocky shoal that creates a placid lagoon and gently sloping sands perfect for younger children. After you’re all done for the day, go to the broiler for mai tais (for the adults) and burgers (for everyone).

Waimea Bay, Oahu: The home of the biggest waves on the island during the winter is a placid bay with sailboats bobbing at anchor during the summer. The steep shore break can sometimes make swimming a little choppy, but much of the summer it’s not much more than an ankle slapper. Watch the brave ones jump off the rock at the west end of the bay. Come early for the best parking and check out the lei-draped memorial to legendary lifeguard and surfer Eddie Aikau.

Lumahai Beach, Kauai: I’ve been criticized by readers for mentioning this classic little beach at the bottom of a steep, wooded path on the north shore of Kauai. The surf can be surprisingly rough, especially in winter.

Even in summer, a rogue wave can reach up on the popular shelf of rocks where wedding photographers often take couples for photos. But the sand strand where part of the movie “South Pacific” was filmed is drop-dead gorgeous. Just don’t drop the wrong way into the ocean and end up dead. If you want to play it safe, stay upslope on the sand.

Makena Beach, Maui: My choice of favorite beach on the island that may have the best beaches in Hawaii has bounced around over the years: Kapalua, until the area around it became too developed. Hot but fun D.T. Fleming.

Kamaole Beach Park (actually three beaches, numbered 1, 2 and 3) near the condos in Kihei. Remote, tree-fringed Hamoa at the end of the long, twisting drive to Hana. The great hotel-fronted strip at Kaanapali. But in the end I come back to the first beach I ever loved on my first trip to Hawaii, the place some locals simply call “Big Beach.” At the end of the road south toward Wailea, it’s a nearly mile-long stretch of golden yellow sand and beautiful water. If you wonder why a stream of people are hiking over a nearby hill: They’re on the way to “Little Beach,” the popular but decidedly unofficial nude beach.

Waikiki, Oahu: Yes, it is packed, and a commercial strip is just a block away. But with Diamond Head in the background, it is America’s classic urban beach (sorry, South Beach). Summer is when the waves are biggest, which isn’t that big on this gently sloping beach. But perfect for the canoe rides offered at the beach boy stands near the statue of Duke Kahanamoku.

Five European Summer Favorites

I’m devoted to traveling to Europe in the off-season, especially the lovely autumn. Nothing seems as suffocating as a July weekend in Florence, where your $500-a-night, three-star hotel doesn’t even have air conditioning.

When I do go to Europe in summer, I head north or up into the mountains.

Scottish Highlands: Despite all the buzz about resurgent Glasgow, I still prefer the more sedate charms of Edinburgh. But my favorite is the long drive across Rannoch Moor through Glencoe to Fort William. In winter, this is the heart of Scotland’s ski area. But in summer, it’s just a cool, pretty mountain town.

Lofoten Islands: Take the Norwegian Coastal Voyage or fly in on a prop plane to the rocky, gray islands where summer literally lasts all day due to the northern latitude. I’ve been all over the islands, but I still want to go back to Reine, a picture-perfect fishing village on the south end of the string of towns that I missed on my last visit.

Grindelwald: Guidebook guru Rick Steves sends hordes to the nearby villages of Gimmelwald, Murren and Wengen. I prefer to visit in the slower spring season. Still, it is hard not to love the crisp, cool summer weather up in the Swiss Alps. I’d use the ski village of Grindelwald as my home base and take the unbelievably intricate network of rail lines to explore the mountains. Include a train ride all the way up to the observation deck near the 13,642-foot peak of Jungfraujoch mountain.

Dolomites: The mountains around Suisi and Cortina d’Ampezzo are unlike anything else in the “roof of Europe,” more vertical and jagged than the Alpine areas in France, Germany and Switzerland. The mountain huts are great for hiking from point to point (some are used by cross-country skiers in the winter). I’m more likely to do the famous loop drive out of Bolzano (called Bozen by the German speakers in the area), conveniently located off the superhighway through the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria.

Tyrol: Politically split between Austria and Italy, this area to the west of the Dolomites is more of the classic Alpine experience. It was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, giving it a north-meets-south feeling. Rent a car in Innsbruck, Austria or Verona, Italy, and tour the region. If you have extra time, check out the wonderful Italian lake district, which would make this list if it were not for the unfortunate but entirely understandable crush of summer crowds. Still, taking the speedboats to the little villages around Lake Como is a treat worthy of a list all its own.

Five Great Summer Drives

Even with $4-a-gallon gas, I love a great summertime drive. Some are high mountain roads that can be driven only in the short summer above the tree line. Some are classic highways any time of year. While I love Pacific Coast Highway, I can’t handle the RVs and SUVs on the stretch between Cambria and Monterey, so it doesn’t make the list-I prefer spring for Highway 1.

Tioga Pass Road: In a good year, the snows clear enough at the high elevations of the California Sierra to open the road by Memorial Day. Don’t count on it this year-at press time there were still four avalanche zones. We’re talking cold country up there. The high road begins just south of Mono Lake off Highway 395 and climbs up to Tioga Pass at 9,943 feet before twisting down into Yosemite Valley. You end up in the heart of the great national park. Snow usually closes the road by November.

Going-to-the-Sun Road: It feels like driving 50 miles on the edge of razor wire wrapped around the sides of the Montana mountains. Your car is the automotive equivalent of the goats you’ll see clinging to the sides of the towering peaks in Glacier National Park. Hawks, moose and the occasional bear are often sharing the scenery, looking at you as you look at them.

This is the 75th anniversary of the engineering marvel, and a party will be held June 27 at Logan Pass, elevation 6,646 feet. Get there early for parking-and bundle up.

Beartooth Highway: I’ve never felt more alone on a road than on the loneliest stretches through the mountains between Red Lodge, Mont., and the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The gravel-strewn high country above the tree line is a place where clouds seem to come at you sideways and lakes are still glittering with bits of ice well into June. There are 20 peaks over 12,000 feet that can be viewed from the highway, which goes over passes in both states that are above 10,000 feet. In good weather, you can do the 69-mile drive in two hours. But stop off at the high country general stores and enjoy yourself. A half day should do just fine.

Route 66: At first, the idea of going out of your way to motor 2,400 or so miles across ancient potholed remnants of the former highway between Chicago and Santa Monica doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Add in blazing summers from southern Illinois through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and you have something downright blacktop hellacious. Still, the draw of what’s left of the two-lane-and classic stops like Amarillo, Texas, and Seligman, Ariz.-make the “Mother Road” something that transcends weather.

Check out the great old La Posada hotel in Winslow, Ariz., a former Harvey House restored by a couple transplanted from Laguna Beach. When your wheels are spinning across the miles of pavement, turn up the radio and crank up the AC. Or if you can, just put the top down and drive fast.

Highway 61: Bob Dylan immortalized the “River Road” that runs beside the Mississippi River from Minnesota to New Orleans. My favorite stretches are the bluffs and forests north of Red Wing in Minnesota, the great riverside town of Davenport, Iowa (excellent minor-league ballpark and the birthplace of chiropractic adjustments), and the legendary Delta blues country south of Memphis to about Vicksburg, Miss. Stop off in Clarksdale, Miss., where legend says guitarist Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil at the “crossroads” with Highway 49. Maybe that explains why in summer, it’s hot as hell in these parts.

© 2008, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.