MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: Why wait till summer for a warm beach getaway? If you want a dreamy beach vacation, it's already warming up down in Myrtle Beach.
(Courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach)
Myrtle Beach's boardwalk is relatively new, but feels as if it's been here forever. Myrtle Beach’s miles of sand, charter fishing expeditions, and Ripley's Aquarium (where you can get nose-to-nose with sharks) will keep you busy while the sun shines, and its world-class eateries roll out an irresistible southern-style welcome with local micro-brews, seafood buffets, and oceanfront tables.
Golf and beautiful vistas are just two of the attractions in Myrtle Beach. The Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, which opened just five years ago, feels as if it's been here forever. Welcoming crowds by the million with its charm and hospitality, the boardwalk features the Family Kingdom amusement park that includes the massive Skywheel and Slingshot, and the just-opened Twist 'n Shout steel roller coaster (visitmyrtlebeach.com).
Can't wait to hit the beach? Head down to South Carolina! Westgate Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Resort provides beach access and ocean views, a heated outdoor pool, heated "lazy river," kids' water play area, and a "kids eat free" policy (from $89, 415 South Ocean Blvd., Myrtle Beach, S.C., wgmyrtlebeach.com).
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Celebrate your freedom in the nation’s capital, where it seems just about every attractionis free.
Washington is not only a cultural and historical mecca, but also a vibrant city in its own right, with great shops and a buzzy food scene. From tours of the Capitol building to the endless galleries and exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution, from the National Archives (you may have heard of some of its contents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?) to the Library of Congress, this town offers more in the way of freebies than anywhere else.
You can spend an entire day touring the Capitol, where the Senate and House meet. When you're ready to step outside and enjoy the spring air and cherry blossoms, pay a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. It may be surprising to you, but it's not to locals and other insiders, that one of the best restaurants in town is the Mitsitam Native Foods Café at the National Museum of the American Indian—you can try buffalo and fry bread, among other delights.
The National Gallery of Art offers a priceless collection—without an entrance fee! When it's time to rest your head, Adams Inn is a reliable and, for this town, affordable lodging (from $99, 1746 Lanier Pl., adamsinn.com).
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: The DR offers everything you might want on a Caribbean break, without the sticker shock you might expect. Punta Cana is a popular affordable destination in the Dominican Republic.
All-inclusive resorts make the indulgent Dominican Republic experience surprisingly budget-friendly. One of the reasons the Dominican Republic is such a draw is incredible all-inclusive resorts like the Majestic Colonial Beach Resort in Punta Cana (a steal at $212 per night for two people).
The Dominican Republic's beaches may bring out the kid in you. Las Terrenas, a lesser-known but no less appealing former fishing village in the Dominican Republic’s Samaná province, has amazing beaches and wallet-friendly prices.
Just one of the Dominican Republic's many alluring pools. Explore the DR’s Los Haitises National Park, a protected forest, in a kayak with a guide who will take you through lagoons and mangrove canals amid pelicans and leatherback turtles. Another affordable lodging option is Eva Luna, in Las Terrenas, which has five Mexican-style villas, each with a kitchen. (villa-evaluna.com).
(Courtesy La Punta Apartments)
POINT PLEASANT, NEW JERSEY: Psst! The boardwalk of your dreams opens in spring, but don’t tell or everyone will want to go. The boardwalk in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, opens on weekends in April, but the crowds and prices are nowhere near their summer highs.
The beaches of Point Pleasant are inviting even on still-chilly spring days. Point Pleasant is, well, pleasant enough in summer if you enjoy being part of a major scene, rubbing elbows with in-the-know New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Jersey girls and boys who love Jenkinson's Boardwalk and the lovely stretch of beach here, but spring is far less crowded and more affordable.
For an old-timey boardwalk experience, the rides and games at Point Pleasant can't be beat. Point Pleasant is about 70 miles south of New York City and about 75 miles northeast of Philadelphia. The place starts hopping on weekends in April, the rides are open, the cotton candy is just as sweet, but rates for hotel rooms just a block from the beach can be literally a third of the summer price.
Point Pleasant is a popular spot for beach volleyball, including major tournaments. Grab dinner on the boardwalk, or hit Woodchucks BBQ (3009 Lakewood Rd., woodchucksbbq.com, half-slab of baby back ribs with cornbread and two sides $14). The White Sands is a reliable, friendly hotel right on the beach (1205 Ocean Ave., thewhitesands.com).
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: The Big Easy is easier than ever once Mardi Gras crowds have headed home. The architecture in New Orleans's French Quarter is distinctive and unforgettable.
(Courtesy Alaskan Dude/Flickr)
New Orleans hotels are as friendly and welcoming as the city's inhabitants. Cobblestone streets. Hot jazz. Unforgettable cuisine. New Orleans's French Quarter is just the beginning of a great getaway that combines warm spring weather with elbow room now that Mardi Gras has turned into Lent.
(Courtesy Maison St. Charles Inn and Suites)
New Orleans's iconic St. Louis Cathedral is one of the historical sites you must experience. Trendy nightclubs, ivy-covered townhouses, and Creole cottages make for a backdrop like no other. Don't miss the annual French Quarter Festival in April, load up on beignets at Café Du Monde, and explore the city's unique music scene with a free self-guided audio tour courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Historical Park.
(Lawrence Weslowski Jr / Dreamstime.com)
A sunset stroll along the river may be the higlight of your New Orleans visit. Stay at the Westin New Orleans Canal Place (westin.com).
(Lawrence Weslowski Jr/Dreamstime)
SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA: Your own private island? Well, it’s about as close as you’ll find. Of all the things you can do on Sanibel Island, Florida, the best of all may be… nothing!
Sanibel Island's bridge is deceptively modern and bustling—but this hideaway is really as close as you may come to your own private island. Sure, there's a long list of things you can do on Sanibel Island. But maybe the most appealing of all is... nothing! If your idea of a spring vacation involves warm sand, subtropical breezes, and the luxury of staring, snoring, or reading, this island has your name on it!
Lighthouse lovers will want to take a gander at Sanibel's iconic sentinel. Check into the Tropical Winds Beachfront Motel and Cottages and you'll enjoy a private beach and outdoor pool (sanibeltropicalwinds.com). Feeling a bit adventurous? Sanibel is a mecca for outdoors enthusiasts and you can take your pick of cycling the island's miles of trails; kayaking or canoeing its waterways; water-skiing; and fishing. Or hit the golf course or tennis courts.
Ready for your warm beach getaway? Grab a bowl of fish stew at Sweet Melissa's Cafe (sweetmelissascafe.com).
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, TENNESSEE.: Tour an American paradise before the summer crowds pour in. America's most popular national park, a major theme park, and miles of trails and streams for under $100 per night? Yup.
If you're lucky enough to spot a bear cub at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, keep your distance—they are way cuter from afar! Head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for fishing, hiking, and scenic drives like the six-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
The food, culture, and music of Tennessee are alive in the Great Smoky Mountains region. While you’re at Great Smoky Mountain National Park, don't forget to spend at least one day at 150-acre Dollywood for authentic Tennessee music, food, and, of course, thrill rides such as the Wild Eagle and Mystery Mine.
If you enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains in spring, come back for the fall foliage! The Park Vista-a DoubleTree by Hilton Gatlinburg features two restaurants, an indoor pool, and mountain views (705 Cherokee Orchard Road, Gatlinburg, Tenn., doubletree3.hilton.com).
MONTREAL: An old-world city in the heart of North America! Just strolling the streets of this friendly, moderately priced Canadian city feels like you've crossed the Atlantic and entered an entirely different world.
Spring afternoons are perfect for soaking up rays in friendly Montreal. Once the thrill of hearing French—and tasting continental treats like fresh croissants—has worn off a bit, hit the Montreal Biodôme, which re-creates four ecosystems, including more than 200 species of animals.
Montreal is home to McGill University. Don't miss the landmark Notre-Dame Basilica, the Vieux-Port de Montreal park, and the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal.
St. Paul Street in Old Montreal may make you feel as if you've been transported across the Atlantic. Stay at Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites (squarephillips.com).
CAPE ANN, MASSACHUSETTS: A New England beach getaway for a song. Rockport, Massachusetts's inner harbor is an evocative New England scene on Cape Ann.
(Bambi L. Dingman/Dreamstime)
A state park on Cape Ann, at the site of a former quarry. For authentic New England without the throngs, Gloucester, MA, a tight-knit fishing community on Cape Ann, just 45 minutes north of Boston, is a good place to start. Expansive beaches, frothy seas, wonderfully old-fashioned Main Streets, historic lighthouses, and some of the freshest locally sourced meals around make this "other cape" a reason to bypass the better known-and infinitely pricier-beach destinations along the Massachusetts coast.
The famous gazebo on the Front Beach in Rockport, Massachusetts. Hit Gloucester's Good Harbor Beach, a wide stretch of fine, white sand edged by dunes and a gurgling creek leading into a refreshingly chilly pocket of the Atlantic, and Rocky Neck artists' colony, where you can soak up some of the sumptuous light that has drawn artists including Milton Avery, Edward Hopper, and Winslow Homer.
Boats are anchored in a harbor of a classic New England fishing village—and, yes, that's a lobster shack in the background. Blue Shutters Beachside Inn has comfortable rooms with beach views and a welcoming living room with a fireplace that's surprisingly welcome even on summer evenings (blueshuttersbeachside.com).
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA: It’s always open, it’s always jumping, and it’s always surprisingly affordable even for “low-rollers.”
Las Vegas is home not only to slots, cards, and dice, but also to faux European landmarks! If you haven't found yourself on the Strip yet—it's one of the most popular destinations for girl getaways, bachelor parties, and of course impromptu weddings—you should put it on your list.
Long live the King! In addition to the grand décor (including faux European landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Venetian canals) and the obvious strike-it-rich lure of slots, cards, and dice, Las Vegas offers a $2 billion airport, the Mob Museum, and kitschy retro finds like Champagnes Café, which does its best to bring '50s chic back to life (3557 Maryland Parkway South; 702/737-1699).
(Courtesy Caitlyn Willows/Flickr)
Ready to dive into the Venus Pool Club at Las Vegas's Caesars Palace? The Orleans Hotel & Casino is an absolute steal, a short shuttle ride from the action-packed Strip. (orleanscasino.com).
(Courtesy Caesars Palace)