The United States of Summer (or How We spent Our Summer Vacations)

Sarah Conlisk - Sep 19, 2023
Summer in Review Image Header

Fall is upon us, but before we bid summer farewell, we wanted to take one last look at summer travel — where we went, how we got there, and what we did. We’ve uncovered some interesting trends, learned the best days to go to the airport … and found the nation’s favorite ice cream spots. Here’s what Lyft’s data tells us about how we summered in 2023.

Where we went

Summer hot spots
Here are the areas that came alive this summer (over a third of their annual Lyft rides occurred between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends). Below each hot spot, we list several of the most popular nearby destinations for Lyft riders.

It’s a great American tradition to take advantage of the summer sun — but where did Americans choose to spend their one and only summer 2023? National parks? The Grand Canyon? The beach? 

Lyft data showed that water was the secret ingredient to 2023 success. Of the eight places that saw the largest uptick in ride activity between Memorial Day and Labor Day, all of them were on a waterfront. (Yes, Lake Tahoe counts.)

That may seem obvious, but coastal towns haven’t always dominated the summer to this degree. Destinations in landlocked New Mexico and Montana both made the list in 2021 and 2022, only to fall off in favor of Portland, Maine, and Panama City, Florida. And this year’s top three destinations were all in the north. Considering that this summer was the 15th warmest on record, could it be that Americans are starting to purposely travel to cooler climes come June? We’ll have to wait and see if this trend cools off, or not, next summer.

Summer hot spots over time
The graphic above shows the top eight summer hot spots in 2021, 2022, and 2023.

So that’s where we went. But almost as important: When did we go there? After all, if you want to avoid long airport lines, it’s best to go when people aren’t traveling. Let us suggest you avoid June 25 to July 1 and instead travel between July 2 and July 9, which, according to the number of Lyft rides to or from an airport, appears to be the quietest week of the summer to fly. But, hey if you choose not to fly on Independence Day — we get it. A packet of peanuts hardly beats a freshly grilled hot dog. 

7 Day Average Airport Rides
The figure plots the seven-day rolling average of Lyft rides to or from an airport.

What we did

Summery destinations
The chart plots several categories for Lyft rides by percentage of annual rides that occur in the summer.

As the chart above shows, going to the beach was the most summery activity this year: Half of all rides to the beach occurred over the summer. Parks, movies, and ice cream places were also particularly summery destinations, as well as tanning salons and gyms — presumably in pursuit of that perfect beach body. Meanwhile, there were fewer trips to wintery destinations, like ice rinks and the alpine outfitter Arc’teryx.   

Speaking of beaches, ever wonder what time you need to get there to snag prime real estate? According to Lyft data, if you get to the beach by 12:30 p.m., you will beat 75% of the Lyft-riding crowd.

Rides to the beach
The area in the chart represents the number of rides arriving at the beach by time of day. The dotted blue line indicates that 25 percent of rides occur before 12:30 p.m.
Ride to the theaters
The figure above plots the seven-day moving average of rides to or from a movie theater since the beginning of 2023.

One of the big events of this summer was Barbenheimer: the same-day release of Barbie and Oppenheimer on July 21, 2023. Lyft data showed a 100% increase in rides to movie theaters that week and a spike in new riders as well: The pink section of the chart represents riders who had not yet taken a Lyft ride to a movie theater in 2023.

What we ate

Ice Cream Chart
The figure shows the eight most popular ice cream places, relative to other ice cream places in the region, that people took Lyft rides to or from this summer.

We also celebrated summer with that traditional warm-weather treat: ice cream! More than a third of ice cream trips occurred during the summer months. And if you’re looking for la crème de la cream, you’ll want to know the scoop shops that attracted the highest percentage of their city’s total ice cream rides. Top of that list? Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream in Washington, D.C., which accounted for 38% of ice cream drop-offs over the summer. D.C. residents will have to explain its appeal … but our guess? That irresistibly fuchsia Brambleberry Crisp

The next most popular was Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle, Washington, which emphasizes local sourcing of ingredients and sustainable ethical business practices. And third, Little Man Ice Cream in Denver, Colorado, which offers flavors like Red Eye and Turbulence (its neighborhood used to be the home of Stapleton Airport).

Tips and Ice Cream
The figure compares how much riders tipped (as a percentage of their total fare) after completing rides to an ice cream store (green bar), from an ice cream store (yellow bar), or neither (purple bar). The sample is limited to rides from riders who took at least one trip to or from an ice cream store this summer, and ice cream stores are defined as destinations with “ice cream” or “creamery” in their name.

Surely, ice cream is sweet. But could consuming ice cream make you sweeter — as a person? 

Our results indicate so. Riders left 38% higher-than-average tips on their way back from an ice cream store. Even anticipation of ice cream seems to play a role: Tips were 25% higher on rides heading to one.

When we dragged ourselves home

Bars and nightlife
The area in the chart represents the percentage of rides departing from bars or nightclubs and heading to a residential address between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. over the past year. In the summer of 2023, people stayed out roughly six minutes later than in other seasons of the year.

Lyft riders stayed out at the bars an average of six minutes longer — heading home at 12:46 a.m., instead of the annual average of 12:40 — during June, July, and August. Although six minutes might not sound like very much, it adds up. If people order a drink every hour, and there are at least 10 people in each bar, that means the bartender makes at least one additional drink every night of the summer. A back-of-the-napkin calculation suggests that over the 100 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and the roughly 70,000 bars in the United States, there are roughly 7 million more drinks made every summer. 

Cheers to those who stayed out just a little bit later — summer doesn’t last forever, after all.