The best spring break getaways in the US

When the sky’s been gray for weeks, the furnace can’t keep up with the chill, and you’re tired of de-icing the driveway, getting away to somewhere warm for even a week can be the secret to maintaining your mental health. Or, if like me, you’re lucky enough to live where it doesn’t snow, you’ve likely been rained in for weeks and are desperate to travel to a destination where you can bask in the warmth of sunshine or appreciate the drama of snow draping the tree branches with lace. And if it’s a dog-friendly getaway you’re after, all you want is someplace where you won’t have to do a major wipe-down after every damp and gloomy walk.

Here are 15 spring getaways that meet all these criteria and more, whether your ideal vacation involves sinking your toes in the sand, seeking out spring wildflowers, tipping back a beer on a lakeside dock, or testing your mettle with a boundary-pushing adventure.

Monterey, California

Sheltered within the horseshoe curve of Monterey Bay, this former center of the fishing industry has grown into a marine science destination of international stature. Numerous exhibits and events celebrate the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can witness the antics of playful sea otters, circling sharks, and chirping penguins diving into their pool. Highlights include the jellyfish tank, where the mysterious, transparent creatures seem to dance through the water, the Rocky Shores touch pool, and timed events such as sea otter feedings, which you won’t want to miss.

Monterey is also celebrating the 65th anniversary of the weekend-long Artichoke Festival held in nearby Castroville, the “Artichoke Center of the World,” from June 8 to 9. Another must-see attraction is Cannery Row, made famous in the novel by John Steinbeck, which in addition to shops and cafes features a stretch of shorefront where you’re likely to see sea lions, otters, and possibly a whale spouting in the distance.

If hunting for lost treasure, fighting skeleton pirates, and ducking a mighty kraken, all of this in the dark, sounds like your dream, you’ll love Monterey’s new Treasure Hunt: The Ride, an immersive, interactive attraction on Cannery Row that opened in 2023 and reenacts the escapades of Captain Hippolyte Bouchard, who attacked Monterey in 1818.

Speaking of whales, possible sightings at various times during the spring include humpbacks, grays, blues, and even orcas. The best way to see them is on a boat tour such as those offered by Discovery Whale Watch, which puts a marine biologist or naturalist on board to locate marine life and explain what you’re seeing.

If certain locations in Monterey look familiar, it’s because the town and surrounds provided the setting for the hit TV miniseries “Big Little Lies,” which featured the iconic Bixby Bridge in the opening sequence. It’s only half an hour from Monterey to the bridge, the first stop on the classic cliff-hugging Big Sur road trip.

While U.S. Highway 1 remains closed beyond Gamboa Point due to landslides and rockfalls, you can still visit many of Big Sur’s most famous sites, including McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Nepenthe, and Partington Cove.

Where to stay

You’ll find the full resort experience at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa on Del Monte Golf Course, which spans 22 private acres just outside the town center on the edge of the Del Monte Golf Course. Take advantage of two outdoor pools, three on-site restaurants, and the cushy Spa Adeline. Rates start from $266 or 23,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

For a posher and more intimate experience, choose one of the three local boutique hotels in the Four Sisters collection: Green Gables Inn and Gosby House Inn in Pacific Grove, adjacent to Monterey, and Coachman’s Inn in neighboring Carmel. Rooms at all three start in the range of $200 to $250 per night and include a full breakfast.

Lake City, Jacksonville, and St. Augustine, Florida

Once you know that Lake City, Florida’s Springlands, an hour east of Jacksonville, features more than 900 freshwater springs and 350 miles of rivers, you’ll wonder why this watery fantasia isn’t better known.

In stark contrast to the spring break throngs overwhelming many of Florida’s more famous destinations, you’ll be thrilled at the peace to be found as you hike in the area’s thick pine forests, delve into its aquatic caves, trek to waterfalls, and explore its nine state parks.

Lake City calls itself the “Springs Capital of the World,” and you won’t disagree when you see Ichetucknee Springs State Park, where people tube and kayak through waterways populated by otters, soft-shell turtles, wild turkeys, wood ducks, and the striking long-billed limpkins.

Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, named after a well-known cave diver and underwater photographer, protects one of the most extensive underwater cave systems in the continental U.S., where more than 33,000 feet of caves have been documented since the mid-1950s.

It’s worth the two-hour drive to St. Augustine to tour a real-life fort, the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, built by Spanish colonists in the 17th century, and you’ll want to add a tour of Villa Zorayda, built to resemble a mini-Alhambra complete with Moorish-influenced tilework.

If you’re thinking of visiting later in the spring, time your visit to experience Jacksonville’s celebration of Juneteenth on June 17, a high-spirited celebration that kicks off with a Freedom Walk and continues with the Melanin Market, which brings together more than 150 Black-owned businesses and features music, food trucks, craft booths, and pop-up boutiques. The Jazz Discovery Series at James Weldon Johnson Park draws big-name musicians.

Where to stay

Convenient to Ichetucknee Springs, the Home2Suites by Hilton Lake City has a large pool enclosed in a sunny patio area, offers pet-friendly rooms, and includes breakfast, making it a great home base from which to explore the area. And Hilton’s Home2Suites are pet-friendly, welcoming dogs of any size. Rates start from $203 per night with a Hilton Honors discount or 83,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve and San Luis Valley, Colorado

Who knew that the largest sand dunes in the world are not along the coast but rather deep in the interior of the U.S.? Left behind when massive Lake Alamosa receded some 440,000 years ago, the sand was sculpted by high desert winds into peaks as high as 750 feet, all of which are open for climbing.

But not just climbing — the big fun in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is sandboarding, an extreme sport similar to snowboarding that turns adults into kids the instant they stand at the top of a slope, board in hands.

Sandboarding is not for the faint of heart, given the speeds at which boarders whizz down the steep inclines — and the frequency with which they wipe out. But it’s just as much fun to climb the dunes and gaze out across the enormous expanse of sand as it gradates from gold to pink in the changing light.

And yes, there’s actually a beach here, too, created by Medano Creek, which emerges mysteriously from the base of the dunes when fed by spring runoff. In warm weather, Medano Beach, as locals call it, resembles any other beach scene, with colorful umbrellas dotting the sand and hardy swimmers splashing and tubing in the rippling waves created by the current.

There’s no question the weather in the San Luis Valley is iffy in the spring — snow can fall as late as April given the park’s elevation, which ranges from 7,520 to 13,604 feet, but the warm sun typically melts the snow off the dunes within a day. Medano Creek reaches peak flow in April, but the sun isn’t strong enough for most swimmers until May.

You’ll find plenty more to explore among the dramatic landscapes of southern Colorado, including four public hot springs surrounding the town of Alamosa, which range in vibe from family-friendly Splashland to romantic Joyful Journey.

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