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15 Spring Break Destinations You Haven’t Thought of Yet

Explore these under-the-radar destinations for all the fun of spring break without the seasonal markups or hordes of partiers.

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New Orleans

Spring is the perfect time to let the good times roll on a family vacation in New Orleans. Visiting in the sweet spot between when Mardi Gras wraps up in late February and JazzFest begins in late April, you’ll find temperate weather and fun entertainment without the crowds. Kids will love an alligator spotting cruise down the Bayou, visiting the Mardi Gras Museum, checking out the crawling critters at the Insectarium, family friendly jazz at Preservation Hall, and just strolling through the Big Easy taking in the sights and sounds.

Food is foremost in NOLA—for sweet fried beignets around the clock, Cafe Du Monde is a must visit; dress up for lunch at Commander’s Palace, which is a great excuse to take the trolley to the Garden District (and lunch is the insider way to try out a classic restaurant without the pricey dinner entrees), and wander over to the Warehouse District for French-inspired dinner at Compere Lapin.

Great family hotel options include the boutique, art-inspired The Old No. 77, The Jung Hotel & Residence, featuring a rooftop pool, and the swanky French Quarter favorite The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans. And don’t be spooked, but New Orleans also ranks as one of the most haunted places in America.

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Nicaragua

The experts on inexpensive travel at CheapAir.com named this under-the-radar Central American nation as one of their top up-and-coming vacation spots. There are often sales on flights from U.S. gateway cities to the capital of Granada, Managua. From there, make your way to budget-friendly Granada to explore colonial architecture and myriad dining options. Then head to the palm tree-filled Corn Islands or beautiful Lake Nicaragua for a tropical beach vacation without high spring break prices. Don’t miss these other popular spots in Central America, either.

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Greenville, SC

The southern city once known, quite fittingly, as Pleasantburg, is an ideal spot for families looking for a southern-style getaway, without crowds or high prices, but with lots of fun (and fabulous food, to boot).

Greenville is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and boasts 200 sunny days a year. Main Street is the central hub of activity with more than 120 locally owned restaurants and boutiques. There’s also a 32-acre park and natural waterfalls, a baseball stadium, a concert arena, and access to the 20+ mile Swamp Rabbit BikeTrail, a perfect family outdoor option. Keep the spring break fun going at the Greenville Zoo, Roper Mountain Science Center, the Children’s Museum, and Frankie’s Fun Park, or with a live show at the Peace Park theater.

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Southeast Utah

Lonely Planet just named this quintessential road trip spot one of the best places to visit in the United States. Yes, we know, Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Canyonlands national parks don’t exactly fly under the radar. But, Capitol Reef National Park is the unknown park of the Big 5 National Parks in Utah, according to National Parks expert Marty Behr of Revealed America, the park offers a wide range of activities from hiking, 4-wheel drive tours (just outside the park), Native American petroglyphs, historic Mormon settlements, fly and spin fishing, bison herds, horseback riding (just outside the park), and more—and without any of the crowds. Check out these spring break vacation ideas that cost less than staying home.

ChattanoogaDrone Trekkers/Shutterstock

Chattanooga, TN

Chattanooga, a fun city for families any time of year, transforms itself into a completely kid-centric destination with its Spring Break Safari & Scavenger Hunt that runs throughout the river town from the first week in March through the first week in April. There are also many hands-on activities designed just for them where they can become a Musician, Shutterbug Adventurer, World Traveler, Backyard Scientist, and Time Traveler.

For junior train buffs, you’ve come to the right place, too. The famous “Chattanooga Choo Choo” song has spawned an eponymous, and unusual hotel where you can sleep in actual Pullman rail cars (there are regular hotel rooms here as well). Attached to the hotel is the city’s original grand train station, filled with fun dining and entertainment options, including southern favorite Frothy Monkey, which features a Little Monkeys menu full of kid favorites. Here are more unusual hotels you’ll love for their sheer novelty.

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Central New York State

When the temperature rises and the snow melts, the beauty of the Central New York Region emerges from winter’s hibernation, creating the perfect setting for outdoor adventures from hiking along 350 miles of trails, to paddling down the historic Old Erie Canal, or even mining for diamonds. If you have baseball fans in the family, you’ll want to focus on Cooperstown, home to The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, where they honor some of America’s athletic heroes. You can also visit The Fenimore Art Museum, which boasts an extraordinary collection of American Indian and folk art, or step back in time at The Farmers’ Museum where American history comes to life with real-life experience on a working Farmstead. Then taste your way through over 40 specialty food products at the Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard, including cider that’s been made for over 150 years in a water-powered mill. These are the cheapest months of the year to visit all 50 states.

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The Crystal Coast, NC

Located along North Carolina’s central shore, this Atlantic beach destination is one of the few remaining natural barrier island systems in the world. Outside Magazine named it the “Best Spring Break Destination” for its authentic “coastal experience,” 85 miles of silk sand and sparkling beaches. Family-friendly activities range from exploring Blackbeard’s sunken treasure from The Queen Anne’s Revenge at the North Carolina Maritime Museum to hands-on learning at The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores to climbing the famed Diamond Lady Lighthouse with views of wild horses roaming freely at neighboring Shackleford Banks.

There are a variety of beach accommodations to suit every budget, including seaside cottages and massive beach mansions for rent that are the perfect place for multi-generation escape, and beach hotels including Bask Hotel at Big Rock Landing in Morehead City and the DoubleTree Atlantic Beach Oceanfront. See why one town in North Carolina made the Reader’s Digest list of nicest places in America.

BucksChristian Carollo/Shutterstock

Bucks County, PA

Easy driving distance from New York City (1.5 hours), Philadelphia (30 minutes), and Washington, DC (3 hours), this affordable east coast destination offers family fun that’s perfect for younger kids (check out our Perfect Day-by-day Guide to a Weekend in Bucks County). Explore the Bucks County Children’s Museum in New Hope, with 10,000-square-feet of fun where your kids can design their own race track, work in a general store, pretend to be a “junior doctor,” or dig for buried fossils. At Kid’s Castle in Doylestown’s Central Park, let the family climb and play on an eight-story wooden playground complete with slides, swings, a treehouse, and a rocket ship. Then head to Sesame Place a perfect intro to theme parks for younger kids where they can meet Elmo, Big Bird, Grover. Don’t miss these affordable spring break destinations you should book right now.

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Columbus, GA

Whether your family loves the outdoors, history, art, or food, you’ll find something to love for spring break in this Georgia charmer. Whitewater Express is the place to go for high adventure, with daily rafting trips down the Chattahoochee, as well as the Blue Heron Aerial course. For less expensive fun in Columbus, visit the National Infantry Museum, voted the best free museum in the nation, or Oxbow Meadows for some face-to-face time with turtles, snakes, and alligators. The Columbus Marriott, set around a historic grist mill, is a perfect home base for your city getaway. Not looking to travel far? Try some of these spring break staycation ideas instead.

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Austin, TX

The state capital of Texas offers plenty of spring break ideas for families, including opportunities to enjoy nature around beautiful Lady Bird Lake, with its hiking and biking trails, kayaking, and stand up paddleboarding. Looking for more adventure? NLand is the world’s only inland surf destination (and brewery, just FYI). The 14-acre surf lagoon, the largest in the world, offers surf sessions (surfboard included), lessons, kids camps, and a 90-minute Introduction to Surfing for juniors ages 8 to 13.

Stay at the W Austin, which has a prime location near Lady Bird Lake. And don’t forget to try out the local BBQ, including LeRoy and Lewis Barbecue, which won Eater Austin’s Food Truck of the Year award. Yum!

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Whistler, Canada

Haven’t had enough snow yet this year? Then head to the Western Canada, a pristine mountain area located a 2-hour drive from Vancouver. Spring in the mountains lets young kids ski more time in daylight as the days get longer. Still on the cusp of winter in the mountain, March promises both powder days and sunshine, while April serves up long days with soft spring snow. Throw in lazy après ski in the sun, lots of family-friendly local spring festivals, and a walkable village with lots of food and treats, and you have one of our favorite places for spring break. Here are the best spring break vacations to avoid college crowds.

Cincinnatiaceshot1/Shutterstock

Cincinnati, OH

Although this river town, called the “Queen City,” may normally be best known to adults for its sports, arts, and museums, your kids will be most interested to know that this is the home of superheroes.

More specifically, Justice League’s “Hall of Justice” headquarters, animated by Al Gmuer, was inspired by one of Cincinnati’s famed, Union Terminal, and it’s the perfect jumping off point for a Superhero-themed spring break that can include donning a superhero costume for the BB Riverboat Superhero Cruise down the Ohio River and visiting Queen City Comic & Card Co., the city’s premier comic shop.

Other family favorites include the Cincinnati Observatory, the birthplace of American astronomy and the Newport Aquarium which will launch its “Ring of Fire” exhibit in March 2018 featuring a giant octopus, as well as moon jellyfish and Japanese spider crabs. Here are more travel hot spots you haven’t heard of…yet.

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Merida, Mexico

Merida is a small, safe, friendly, and uniquely beautiful city on the Yucatan coastline, offering opportunities to both explore Mexican history and soak up the sun on beautiful beaches. Your family can learn about the Mayan people and see magnificent Mayan ruins in the area, including Chichen Itza (only 1.5 hrs by car). When you’re ready to relax, you’ll also be close to fun beaches where you can enjoy beautiful spring break weather. Check out Celestun, where families can see the famous flamingo beach. Merida is also well-positioned for visits to myriad cenotes, beautiful underground swimming holes only found in this region of Mexico, where locals and visitors alike swim among in the turquoise waters (one of the most famous is Cenote Ik Kil). Bonus: You can fly directly into Merida International Airport (so all the sun of Cancun, without any of the travel hassles). Put these affordable bucket list destinations next on your travel list.

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Death Valley, CA

Yup, we know the name sounds a little off-putting, but that’s also one of the reasons all of your friends won’t be following you here for vacation. Their loss. This desert oasis features everything you want for a spring getaway: sunshine, warm temperatures (about 82 degrees average in March), and water, in the form of large natural spring-fed pools that are a constant 85 degrees. This part of the American desert is also one of the few sanctioned Dark Skies in the U.S., where you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye (so cool!). And it’s home to some of the original Star Wars locations (bring your costumes for awesome 2018 holiday cards). This is also a great outdoor destination with horseback riding, hiking, and Jeep tours.

The Ranch at Death Valley, with its towering palm trees and true oasis atmosphere, is situated right on the desert floor. The property boasts a large pool fed by spring waters, a golf course with spectacular views, general store, casual dining restaurants, horseback riding, star gazing, and 224 family-friendly rooms. The Borax Museum, with artifacts large and small including some of the original 20 Mule Wagon Team trains, also calls The Ranch home, and the Death Valley National Park visitor center is also within walking distance. And don’t miss these spring break destinations for grown-ups.

Panama-cityGTS Productions/Shutterstock

Panama

Once best known as a cruise port stop, this easy-to-visit Central American nation is becoming more popular as an eco-destination with plenty of beaches and rainforests to explore. One top spot for families is Bocas del Toro, home of the environmentally protected national marine park and spectacular Red Frog Beach. Stay at Red Frog Beach Island Resort & Spa which features family-friendly options such as a canopy zip line, water sports activity center, and island tours and excursions including underground caves, a monkey habitat and observing nesting sea turtles, and eight miles of rainforest trails. Tip: Prices go down after April 5. Next, check out the best spring break getaways in every state.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.