Spring is on its way – meaning rising temperatures, blooming buds and the dread that accompanies the idea of having the kids at home for their mid-semester vacation.
But planning for this time off with your family doesn’t have to mean endless lines at theme parks or overpriced beach restaurants – or, for that matter, yet another walk to the neighborhood playground. As you think about how to amuse your kids and reconnect as a family, we’ve come up with a few ideas for trips you might not have considered before.
Here are a few places in the USA that will make for a fulfilling spring break for everyone in the family.
1. Route 66, Arizona
You can get plenty of family kicks with a road trip along USA’s most fabled highway. Start in Las Vegas and make your way east to Arizona to pick up Rte 66 near Kingman, home to colorful murals and the Route 66 Museum, which tells the story of Arizona’s segment of the storied road through photographs and memorabilia. As you continue the road trip, map out “notable” attractions for a pit stop – such as the wonderfully kitsch Giganticus Headicus, a 14ft Easter Island–style head in Kingman, as well as Meteor Crater in Winslow. In Holbrook, be sure to stop off to explore Petrified Forest National Park, which the famous route cuts right through.
2. San Diego, California
With near-perfect weather year-round, there’s never a bad time to visit San Diego – and its family-friendly attractions make it especially appealing for spring break. Sprawling Balboa Park is filled with amenities that merit multiple visits. In addition to nature trails, playgrounds and a historic carousel, the park is also home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, and such kid-friendly institutions as the San Diego Air & Space Museum and Fleet Science Center. A free park tram can shuttle you all around.
Just over a (very tall) bridge from downtown lies the beach at Coronado. Kids will love erecting castles from sand that glistens due to the glittery mineral, mica, that’s mixed in with the sand, while adults will enjoy sipping alfresco cocktails at the iconic Hotel del Coronado. Hop on the ferry back across San Diego Bay and gaze up at the almost-too-big-to-believe aircraft carriers docked at the naval base – enough to inspire a bit of patriotic awe in visitors of all ages.
3. Clearwater, Florida
There’s no need to seek out the Mouse during a Florida sojourn. Head to Clearwater Beach on the Gulf Coast, where the little ones can frolic for hours as you lie out on the white sand. In between sun sessions, check out the acclaimed Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a leading animal rehabilitation center and home to Winter the Dolphin, who was rescued and uses a prosthetic tail to swim. (Winter starred in the wildly popular Dolphin Tale movies.) Every night brings a party on west-facing Pier 60, as local artisans, magicians and live musicians come out to celebrate the vibrantly colored sunset.
4. St Petersburg, Florida
If you’re craving more-urban vibes, St Petersburg, 20 miles southeast of Clearwater, offers perhaps the richest array of cultural activities you’ll find in all of Florida. Art lovers of all ages will find something that catches their eye at the Dalí Museum, home to a staggering collection of the surrealist’s works. The Great Explorations Children’s Museum is as fun as it is educational, while kids will love following the paths that snake through the jungle-like Sunken Gardens. And an afternoon on the fabulously rebuilt St Pete Pier – which juts 3000ft into Tampa Bay and has a play area, cafes, art installations and plenty of room for running around to let off steam – is a delight for children and caregivers alike.
5. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Kick off spring with a dose of over-the-top Americana in this whimsical town, a gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most of Gatlinburg’s buildings are built in a log-cabin style, saluting the region’s Appalachian heritage, and they house an array of fun family businesses and restaurants, making a family walk through downtown a hoot (we especially love the “flavorful” collection at the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum). But it’s the outdoors that’s the primary draw here: beyond the stunning national park, families can walk through the tree canopy, zip-line and more at outdoor activity park Anakeesta; see the forest from above on the thrilling SkyBridge; or keep it simple with a family hike along the Gatlinburg Trail. Nearby Pigeon Forge offers a cornucopia of over-the-top attractions, from the 200ft-tall Great Smoky Mountain Wheel to a replica of the Titanic to – perhaps most famously – the glories of Dollywood. Lucky for you and your spring breakers, the park’s season begins in early March.
6. Newport, Rhode Island
New England can be cold and damp well into the spring, sure – but dreamy Newport, Rhode Island offers family fun year-round. Bundle up and hop on one of Save the Bay’s vessels to look for seals in Narragansett Bay (they love the cold winter waters). Continue the encounters with critters at the Audubon Nature Center and Aquarium in nearby Bristol, where trails are open year-round. Indoor attractions include an imagination-spurring collection of vintage roadsters at the Newport Car Museum, and the family-oriented tour offered at The Breakers, which brings the opulent Gilded Age to life for little ones. Wrap it all up with a brisk walk along part (or all!) of the 3.5-mile cliff walk to see the town’s famous mansions off to one side, and the crashing surf off to the other.
7. Coastal South Carolina
What’s not to love about coastal South Carolina as a spring-vacation destination? In Myrtle Beach, you can stroll the boardwalk, then take a spin on the 200ft SkyWheel for delightful bird’s-eye views. And in the “world capital of miniature golf,” you have to get in at least one round at a popular course like Jungle Safari Mini Golf. Alternatively, Hilton Head Island is better known for outdoor adventures, including kayaking, treetop canopy tours, crabbing and horseback riding. Rent a bike in the cycle-friendly spot to pedal all over – even on the beach. The two destinations are just four hours apart, which makes combining the pair in one trip easily feasible.
8. Truckee, California
Nestled in a pass through the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains, Truckee, California offers a range of activities for an outdoorsy, cold-weather family vacation. The town – whose downtown features a charming row of historic buildings now housing restaurants and shops – lies north of the shores of Lake Tahoe (which never freezes over in winter) and within a short drive of several world-class ski resorts. Spend the day tackling the trails at Northstar or Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley, where the 1960 Winter Olympics took place), or strap on snowshoes to hike to the summit of Eagle Rock in nearby Tahoe City for dreamy lake views. Your kids will likely be gripped by a grim yet fascinating episode from the region’s past explored at Donner Memorial State Park on Donner Lake, where a group of “pioneer” emigrants got fatally stranded in the 19th century. Your snowy adventures here are sure to end on a better note.