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17 Spring Break Getaways That Don’t Require Air Travel

For a break from reality that's still close to home, hop in your car and escape to one of these fun-filled U.S. cities.

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silhouetted figures party on the beach in California at sunsetLeoPatrizi/Getty Images

Ready for a road trip?

Spring break travel is back, baby! According to a recent survey by Cars.com, 57 percent of Americans plan to travel at least 50 miles from home for spring break—and those stats are on par with pre-COVID-19 numbers. Spring break road trips may be the perfect solution to scratching your travel itch for the foreseeable future. Before you hop in the car, be sure to consult our ultimate American road trip guide, which is chock-full of planning, budgeting, and packing tips. It’s also a good idea to double-check that everything you’d like to visit will be open once you arrive—attractions, museums, bars and restaurants, festivals, and other events may still be restricted. Finally, it’s wise to check with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for safety guidelines, restrictions, and other considerations while traveling during this pandemic.

Cana Island Lighthouse on Lake Michigan, Door County WisconsinJamesBrey/Getty Images

Door County, Wisconsin

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Distance from Chicago: 245 miles (less than 4 hours)

In less than a half-day’s drive north, you will find yourself in Door County, a serene 70-mile-long peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan that offers 300 miles of shoreline. Pop by the Door County Coffee & Tea Company in Sturgeon Bay for your gourmet caffeine fix, then over to Peninsula State Park for more than 16 miles of hiking trails. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, choose a cup of tomato bisque and house-made bread at Macready Artisan Bread Co., in Egg Harbor for lunch or an afternoon of hard ciders at Island Orchard Cider in Ellison Bay. No trip is complete without a traditional Scandinavian-style fish boil dinner at the White Gull Inn—you’ll be treated to Lake Michigan whitefish caught by local fisherman and then get to watch while it cooks outside over an open fire. Rest your weary head at the Chanticleer Guest House, a charming and secluded farmhouse-style bed and breakfast set on 70 private acres of wilderness. If you want to visit again in May—and who would blame you, considering it’s one of 13 charming beach towns for under $150 a night—the 2,500 acres of cherry blossoms will be in full bloom. Looking for a longer road trip? The Great Northern Road Trip is a 3,600-mile trek across the—you guessed it!—northern part of the country, including the Badger State.

landscape with a lake and mountains; Ruidoso, New MexicoEsdelval/Getty Images

Ruidoso, New Mexico

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Distance from Phoenix: 512 miles (less than 8 hours)

While Phoenix may seem like the ideal spot for many spring breakers, desert dwellers need a change of scenery too. Set your spring break road trip sights on Ruidoso, a quaint mountain town set in the Sacramento mountains just a few hours southeast of Albuquerque and two hours north of El Paso. If you’re craving a winter-like setting, hit the slopes at Ski Apache or brave its Ziptour (it’s the world’s highest release elevation) for spectacular views as you zip 60 mph down the mountain. Take a kayak or paddleboard out on Grindstone Lake or spend the day fishing for rainbow trout. Go off-roading with Backcountry Attitudes, then quench your thirst at Noisy Water Winery. For some Instagram-worthy shots, try to capture all eight midtown public art murals. Finally, consider a day trip to one of the 12 most peaceful places on Earth: White Sands National Park. Another fun option for Phoenicians with a little more time on their hands is a Route 93 border-to-border road trip that runs from Nogales, Mexico, to Jasper National Park in Canada.

Seabirds fly past the Carlsbad Cliffs during a colorful sunset in Carlsbad, Californiaalancrosthwaite/Getty Images

Carlsbad, California

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Distance from Los Angeles: 94 miles (less than 2 hours)

Residents of San Diego have already caught onto this coastal gem about 35 miles north of their downtown, but Angelenos may not yet have Carlsbad on their radar. Leave the smog and traffic behind in L.A., and enjoy a breath of fresh air at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch (also hailed as one of 15 cheaper alternatives to the most overpriced tourist attractions—this spot gives the Keukenhof Flower Gardens in the Netherlands a run for its money). From early March through late May, the annual burst of color boldly announces that spring has sprung in SoCal. This working farm overlooking the Pacific Ocean is open to the public, though tickets must be purchased in advance. Take the kids to LEGOLAND California and then take yourself to the Ocean Pearl Spa at The Westin Carlsbad Resort and Spa for a personalized holistic treatment. Enjoy a leisurely stroll around Leo Carrillo Ranch (owned by the late actor Leo Carrillo, who was best known for playing Pancho in The Cisco Kid) to bask in the beautiful landscaping and see the free-roaming peacocks. Then stop by Tamarack State Beach for a little sunbathing, or check out Carlsbad’s 67 miles of hiking and single-track mountain biking trails. For your next getaway, consider one of these other 13 California road trips.

Trillium Lake and Mount Hood Oregon USA at sunsetbenedek/Getty Images

Mt. Hood, Oregon

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Distance from Seattle: 263 miles (less than 5 hours)

Ready to trade the sea for some fresh mountain air? Head south to the City of Roses (aka Portland) and then east to snow-capped Mt. Hood, Oregon (this region is also one of the final stops along an Oregon Trail road trip). Kayak the Willamette Falls (the second-largest waterfall by volume in North America), or amp up the adventure with Blue Sky Rafting on the Clackamas River. Spend a Saturday afternoon at the Villa Catalana Cellars for delicious pinot pours, wood-fired pizzas, and the most enchanting scenery with a dozen nature-drenched sipping spots. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival runs through May, where you can wander through 40 acres of colorful fields, watch wooden shoe-making demonstrations, visit the vineyard tasting room, or take a hot air balloon ride. Don’t live on the West Coast? Find out the 25 most stunning mountain towns across America.

Seagulls at sunrise on South Padre Island TexasHundley_Photography/Getty Images

South Padre Island, Texas

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Distance from Houston: 374 miles (5.5 hours)

Are you an angler looking for a tropical feel, miles of sandy beaches, and gorgeous views of the Gulf of Mexico? Head south past Corpus Christi to South Padre Island. From March through May, you can go deep-sea fishing in the clear blue waters of the Gulf for Spanish mackerel, kingfish, barracuda, red snapper, amberjack, crevalle jack, and wahoo; if you’d like to stay closer to shore, try fishing in the Laguna Madre Bay for redfish, black drum, flounder, and sheepshead. You can even catch tarpon, cobia, Spanish mackerel, snapper, and grouper off the jetties. The best part? Take your catch to one of eight local restaurants and they will clean and cook it for you! If you don’t catch anything, head straight to F&B South Padre Island for dinner one evening, and order the whole salt-crusted fish—then prepare to be wowed by the table-side presentation and delicious feast. The Courtyard by Marriott South Padre Island is the newest hotel in the area and located right on the beach. South Padre Island also happens to be one of the 13 best places to see dolphins in the wild, so keep an eye out for them. There’s so much more to see in the Lone Star State, of course, so consider also taking one of these three Texas road trips you should try at least once.

Tucson, Arizona, USA SkylineSean Pavone/Getty Images

Tucson, Arizona

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Distance from Las Vegas: 413 miles (about 6 hours)

Since it’s hard to find weather as lovely as Las Vegas in the springtime, your best bet for a spring break road trip is to head south to Tucson to explore one of the 10 most stunning desert escapes in the United States. On the way, look for Saguaro cacti flowers in bloom, desert hares, and, depending on when you hit the road, a vibrant desert sunset over the mountains. Perhaps you’d like to shed your inner city slicker and stay at White Stallion Ranch, where you can try your hand at sunrise horseback trail rides, archery, and team cattle sorting? Thrill seekers can head straight to Mt. Lemmon, a 9,000-foot peak in the Santa Catalina Mountains with more than 2,700 climbing routes. And those who prefer to stay grounded can hike through Tucson’s mountain trails, while cyclists can take advantage of The Loop, a 131-mile, car-free network of multi-use trails and paved paths. There’s much to see in northern Arizona as well, and this complete guide to an Arizona road trip will take you from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon via some historic Wild West towns.

Blue Ridge Parkway Scenic Mountains Overlook Summer Landscape Asheville NCWerksMedia/Getty Images

Asheville, North Carolina

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Distance from Atlanta: 198 miles (3.5 hours)

Fun fact: 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 600 miles of Asheville—so Atlanta isn’t the only city with easy access to this mountain town. (We’re talking to you, Charlotte, Nashville, Raleigh, Louisville, and Greensboro.) No matter which direction you drive from, you’ll be treated to scenic mountain vistas that allow you to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. You’ll find thousands of miles of hiking and biking trails, George Vanderbilt’s 8,000-acre playground at Biltmore Estate (which just so happens to be one of the 14 most gorgeous wineries everyone should visit at least once), and the highest peaks east of the Mississippi. Drive along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, which spans the southern and central Appalachians along with beautiful flora and fauna. The River Arts District boasts more than 200 artists, and foodies will rejoice knowing this city has plenty of James Beard nominations and food tours showcasing some of the city’s top restaurants. Spend the night at The Foundry Hotel and you can enjoy chauffeured brewery visits via the hotel’s Tesla Model X house car.

Worcester, MassachusettsDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Worcester, Massachusetts

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Distance from Boston: 47 miles (less than 1 hour)

Do you love diners? Take the Mass Pike (I-90E) to Worcester and you’ll arrive in the very spot in which lunch carts, aka diners, were invented. Visit the Worcester Historical Museum to learn more about their history, and let the little ones pretend to take orders and serve up meals in their mini diner. Southwick’s Zoo allows visitors to get up close and personal with deer, pygmy goats, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, alpacas, and parakeets. Sloth encounters are available in April or May each season. Another 90-minute drive west to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, will take you to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health—there’s an R&R retreat if you need to destress, a full calendar of presenters and programs in such categories as creative expression and meditation, and Ayurvedic spa treatments. To see more of the Eastern seaboard, check out this guide to an Atlantic Coast road trip.

Art Deco buildings and palm trees on Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami, Floridaespiegle/Getty Images

South Beach, Florida

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Distance from Tampa: 282 miles (4 hours)

Located within Miami, South Beach is a neighborhood that very much stands on its own. Its iconic, pastel-hued Art Deco buildings line Ocean Drive, and the area’s legendary shoreline almost glitters with aquamarine water and fine sand. Make the Shelborne South Beach your home away from home during your vacation and you’ll be bathed in 1960s-era opulence: From the Art Deco architecture and speakeasy-inspired bar (The Drawing Room) to the iconic pool and penthouse suits, this chic boutique paradise is full of luxurious beach vacation vibes. If you can pry yourself away from the property, stop by the Perez Art Museum Miami to view colorful, contemporary collections. Be sure to have a bite of Middle Eastern–inspired cuisine at the on-site waterfront restaurant and bar, Verde, led by James Beard Award–winning executive chef Hedy Goldsmith, and check out the inventive plant-based cuisine at nearby restaurant Planta. Finally, relax on Miami’s most famous sand, rollerblade along its beachside pathways, and take a stroll through the Art Deco District. Word to the wise: Go in April, after March’s college spring break crowds have dissipated.

The low sun casts long shadows of a wooden fence on a sandy dune by the ocean at Amagansett beach, in the Hamptons, New YorkJoseph O. Holmes/portfolio.streetnine.com/Getty Images

Amagansett, New York

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Distance from New York City: 80 miles (2.5 hours or more)

Sometimes you just need to escape the bustling city but don’t have time to travel too far. That’s why the Hamptons is high up on the list of best spring break road trips for New Yorkers. The further you drive down the Long Island Expressway, the thicker its woods and more out of the way its beaches become. Check into the Roundtree, Amagansett, a luxury boutique hotel that sits on two acres of farmland just one mile from the beach. Its cozy cottages and in-room spa treatments are ideal for a romantic weekend. Spend your time museum-hopping (art lovers should check out the Parrish Art Museum to see a collection of works from the 19th century to the present, while fashionistas will appreciate the Leiber Collection Museum and Sculpture Garden), bird watching and wildlife viewing at Accabonac Harbor (be on the lookout for red fox, resting ospreys, black ducks, and more), and sipping wine at the area’s numerous vineyards.

Cheyenne, Wyoming, downtown skyline with train cars, houses, and trees in view.Davel5957/Getty Images

Cheyenne, Wyoming

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Distance from Denver: 102 miles (1.5 hours)

Who knew two cities only 100 miles apart could also feel worlds apart? On your way north to Wyoming’s capital city, you’ll enjoy the view of wide-open fields. Just past the state border, stop by Terry Bison Ranch—this is the only place where you are allowed to feed bison (in a controlled and safe environment). There’s also a bison train tour and horseback rides, along with cabins, an RV park, and tent sites. Next, enjoy biking in Curt Gowdy State Park, where you’ll find four mountain bike play areas and mountain bike skills areas (there are plenty of hiking trails, too, if you prefer to be on foot). Or take a self-guided tour of the historic and recently renovated State Capitol Building. There are also several museums, including a new state historic site, Quebec 01 Missile Alert Facility. Finally, there’s no shortage of distilleries and breweries to quench your thirst. If you’re traveling via RV, find out the best RV park in every state.

High Falls at dusk in Rochester, New YorkDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Rochester, New York

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Distance from Cleveland: 259 miles (4 hours)

The directions couldn’t be easier: Just hug Lake Erie as you drive northeast along I-90E all the way to Rochester. And make sure to bring the kids, as Rochester really rolls out the red carpet for families. Located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario in Upstate New York, Rochester is the state’s third-largest city and boasts 75 experiences for families within an hour’s drive. The Strong National Museum of Play is the only museum in the world dedicated to the exploration of play (and one of the most-visited family attractions in the country). The Seabreeze Amusement Park offers roller coasters (including the oldest continuously operating wooden roller coaster in the U.S.) and a water park. The Seneca Park Zoo and Rochester Museum and Science Center, which boasts the largest planetarium in the country, are also must-sees. Or make it a romantic weekend and take an hour detour southeast and stay the night at The Inns of Aurora in the heart of the Finger Lakes. Find out the best family travel destination in every state.

Lynchburg Virginia at the James River walkPFIphotography/Getty Images

Lynchburg, Virginia

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Distance from Philadelphia: 320 miles (5.5 hours)

You’ll pass through Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., on your drive to Lynchburg, Virginia, but once you arrive, your pace will slow down. Enjoy the local shops and artwork that fill the downtown streets, beginning at the Instagram-worthy Love Sculpture located along the Percival’s Island Trail downtown. Unplug with nature at Ivy Creek Park, a green oasis offering trails, picnic and play areas, and canoeing and kayaking rentals on the lake. The third-oldest farmer’s market in the country (founded in 1783), Lynchburg Community Market, offers a variety of fresh produce and crafts on the corner of 12th and Main Streets. Craving classic Italian? La Villa Italian Restaurant serves pasta dishes and thin-crust pizzas. For a sweet treat, indulge in Mama Crockett’s apple cider donuts baked fresh daily. When you’re ready to rest, the Craddock Terry Hotel has the ambiance you’re looking for: This turn-of-the-century shoe factory has been transformed into a luxury hotel, blending original brick warehouse architecture and historical artifacts with chic modern style. And if you like what you see in Lynchburg, keep in mind that it’s one of 22 cities where you can retire on $1,500 a month.

Drone Aerial Beach View of Panama City Beach, Florida, USAKruck20/Getty Images

Panama City Beach, Florida

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Distance from Jacksonville: 272 miles (4 hours)

You may still be under the impression that Panama City Beach is just for drunk college kids partying hard through spring break, but the vibe has changed in recent years. In 2016, the city passed (and enforces!) a drinking ban that outlaws the possession and consumption of alcohol on beaches during the month of March. So long, 20-somethings, and hello, families! While you could spend your entire vacation hanging out on the beach and enjoying the Gulf of Mexico, there’s plenty more to do on this spring break road trip. Visit the Shipwreck Island Water Park, hike Camp Helen State Park’s trails, play golf (Golf Digest magazine named this city one of the nation’s top three golf towns), and go fishing, boating, or diving. Seafood markets offer the freshest catches when you’re ready for a bite to eat, and many of the beach bars offer live music and cocktails with sunset views. These are the best spring break destinations where you’ll avoid college crowds.

Big Sable Lighthouse in Ludington Michigancsterken/Getty Images

Ludington, Michigan

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Distance from Detroit: 252 miles (3.5 hours)

Halfway up Michigan’s west coast on the shores of Lake Michigan lies Ludington, one of the closest access points to what Michiganders call “Up North”—a region that feels like a vacation from everyday life. Picture this: northern Michigan natural beauty combined with the quaint charm of a small town, with specialty shops and family-owned restaurants lining the pedestrian-friendly main street. Stroll along the 28 miles of sugar-sand beaches, explore the Pere Marquette River via kayak or canoe, or head to Ludington State Park for 25 miles of hiking trails (and if you’re a fan of sleeping under the stars, it’s one of 15 incredible American campsites that should be on your bucket list). Learn about the area’s history at the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum in the former U.S. Coast Guard Station or through a self-guided tour of the Mason County Cultural Trails (just use your smartphone to hear stories at each stop along the way).

view of the city of Fargo, North DakotaDenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Fargo, North Dakota

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Distance from Minneapolis: 235 miles (less than 4 hours)

You’ll spend much of this drive in Minnesota, but once you reach North Dakota, Fargo is just over the border. Start with a public art tour of the murals of Fargo-Moorhead, where you’ll find a colorful display every few blocks. Check out the Fargo Theater, which was built as a cinema house in 1912 but has been thoughtfully restored, and explore the great outdoors at Rendezvous Park’s hiking paths and biking trails. Indulge in seasonal fare prepared by James Beard Best Chef Midwest nominee Ryan Nitschke at Luna or at Maxwells, one of North Dakota’s most award-winning restaurants. If you’re a fan of craft brews, don’t miss Fargo Brewing Company and its Wood Chipper IPA, or Drekker Brewing Brewhalla located downtown.

Azaleas at the peak of blossoming surrounded by huge oaks draped in spanish moss on a bright, sunshiny day. Gardens at Avery Island, New Iberia, Louisiana.Warren_Price/Getty Images

New Iberia, Louisiana

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Distance from New Orleans: 132 miles (2.5 hours)

From NOLA, take US-90W to New Iberia and you’ll quickly reach a Cajun Country destination with an abundance of attractions and activities. Iberia Parish is located on the Bayou Teche Scenic Byway, which just received its National Byway designation. With 24 lakes and 15 public boat launches, it’s the perfect place to spend time on the water. Additional outdoor activities include the Iberia Azalea Trail (you’ll stroll Main Street New Iberia and gaze at the azaleas and stately homes) and the Bayou Teche National Water and Paddle Trail, where you can boat and fish. Devote a day to Jefferson Island, where you’ll find the Rip Van Winkle Gardens, Cajun and Creole specialties at Café Jefferson, and plentiful bird watching at Rips Rookery (Jefferson Island is home to more than 260 species, including the Spoonbill Roseate). For even more adventure, continue the journey along Highway 31 for one of the 25 best road trips in America.

Jill Schildhouse
Jill Schildhouse is an award-winning writer based in Phoenix who regularly covers travel, health and wellness, personal finance and e-commerce. Her bylines have appeared in Reader's Digest, The Healthy, Oxygen, AAA, Brides, Vegetarian Times, and Phoenix Home & Garden magazines, among others. She earned a BA in corporate communications from Northern Illinois University. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin