Taking a festive spring break with the family shouldn’t mean resigning yourself to being packed like sardines in a theme park—or worse yet, battling the hordes of college-aged partiers for room on the beach. Spring break falls during “shoulder season” for many destinations around the U.S., which usually means not-quite-perfect weather, but also fewer crowds and lower prices—which more than makes up for packing that just-in-case umbrella. The season also provides plenty of solid, but lesser known alternatives to the banner Spring Break spots. Here are five places where you can get some sand, snow and space to yourself for the whole week—and maybe even save some money, too:
Amelia Island, Fla.
This barrier island off the northeastern coast of Florida offers an interesting history lesson for kids: it has flown under eight different flags over the centuries, including the French flag and the short-lived “Green Cross Flag of Florida.” Today, given its quaint, small-town atmosphere, it doesn’t attract the rowdier Spring Break crowds. As a bonus, this is one of the few remaining beaches in the U.S. where you can still ride horses (the tours at Happy Trails Walkers welcomes ages 6 and up). Or, you can take the kids shrimping (catch and release, of course) through tour operator Amelia River Cruises. A great place to stay: the 404-room Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, which has a beachside pool, bike rentals and a strolling turtle character named Tanner.
Kiawah Island, South Carolina
This island off the coast of South Carolina is an easy, 20-mile drive from Charleston and stays blissfully calm, since it’s private for resort guests and rental folks. (It’s also ideal for golf lovers, with five courses.) If you stay at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, you can go canoeing, try your hand at disc golf, or go on GPS hunts. Be sure to check out the Heron Park Nature Center, where you can go on birding walks, butterfly walks and even alligator walks.
San Francisco, California
Spring is a great time to do a cool city getaway with the kids, with fewer tourists at the museums and big attractions. Spring is shoulder season in San Francisco, and even if the days might be a little chilly—in the 50s and 60s—even the high season of summer can still get pretty chilly. And in spring, you’ll find more elbow room on the cable cars and at Fisherman’s Wharf. Don’t miss the Exploratorium at Pier 15, one of country’s greatest hands-on museums, with such features as the upside-down Giant Mirror and the pitch-black, feel-your-way Tactile Dome. Parents may love the Westin St. Francis for its historic grande-dame vibe, but be sure to book your room in the newer, 32-story Tower wing; that way, kids can make the most of the fabulous glass-walled elevator—with sweeping views of the city—that moves at a thrilling 1,000 feet a minute.
Yosemite National Park
While parts of the California park close during the winter and early spring months, Yosemite Valley is open all year—and early spring sees a fraction of the visitors that summer does. Even if some of your hikes will feature snow on the ground—high temperatures range from the 50s to the 70s—there is a huge benefit to all the melting white stuff: the waterfalls, like Bridalveil and Lower Yosemite Falls, get fabulously dramatic. The Yosemite Lodge at the Falls gives you great access to those falls, and features family rooms equipped with bunk beds, as well as a kid-pleasing food court.
Grand Targhee Ski Resort, Wyoming
This ski resort in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is known for getting more snow and fewer crowds than Jackson Hole, about an hour and a half away. Aside from skiing, the resort has a tubing hill, snowshoeing, sleigh rides and cool demos by the avalanche dog rescue team. The resort also has a current Kids Stay and Ski Free package, offering free lift tickets for ages 12 and under with any stay of at least three days. One great place to stay—especially for a large or extended family—is the slopeside, condo-style Tower Suite, where units sleep up to 8 and include a full kitchen, two separate bedrooms and a fireplace.
Katrina Brown Hunt contributed this to MiniTime.