It's been a long year, Austin. With 37% of the U.S. fully vaccinated and counting, it's time to start looking for the best places to enjoy that summer sun.
Wallethub makes your next vacation easier with a list of the best summer destinations in the U.S., but you might not even need to leave Austin to get your "Vaxxed Girl Summer" on.
Based on 42 key metrics, here are the five best summer travel destinations in the U.S. and where Austin ranked on that list.
1. Orlando, Florida
Disney World and its many amusement parks provide plenty of entertainment in Orlando. (Walt Disney World/Facebook)
With Disney World, an abundance of lakes and proximity to other Florida destinations, Orlando was ranked the No. 1 metro to travel to this summer. Orlando offered the most local attractions, the second-most attractions, and had the third-lowest local costs on the list.
Waikiki Beach is just one of many destinations in Honolulu.
Honolulu seems obvious; lush beaches are a must after spending a year mostly indoors and away from people. The city boasts the second-most attractions on the list and was ranked the safest city to travel to. Families, couples or friends looking for a good time can all enjoy a back-to-nature experience at the U.S.'s most tropical state capitol this summer.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The French Quarter gives European flair to the Cajun-infused city of New Orleans.
With its French and Spanish influence, visiting New Orleans can seem like getting a taste of Europe. Cajun food, Bourbon Street and the city's storied past offer plenty of destinations for the summer, and the city was also ranked the second-most safe in the survey.
For those that can't exactly travel, you can always have a "staycation" in Austin, whether that means booking an Airbnb, staying at a trendy hotel or planning a day of activities like you're new in town.
Austin, with its Hill Country outdoor attractions and "Live Music Capital of the World" reputation, came in at fourth on the list. It was the only Texas city in the top 10.
Favorites of the city include taking a dip in Barton Springs, paddleboarding on Lady Bird Lake, strolling through South Congress and enjoying a night out on Rainey Street. There's always the option of a short drive to visit nearby wineries and quaint Hill Country towns like Fredericksburg or Dripping Springs.
5. Atlanta, Georgia
The city with both Southern charm and cosmopolitan appeal has plenty of attractions, from its signature "chicken biscuit" to the world's largest indoor aquarium. With a rich history steeped in Black culture and the 20th-largest economy in the world, the metro is packed with destinations, including botanical gardens, a zoo and plenty of major league sports teams. The city, sometimes called the "Capital of Hip-Hop" and a hotbed for other music genres, has a lively nightlife scene and is dotted with great eats.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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