MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: If you want a dreamy beach vacation, it's already warming up down in Myrtle Beach.
(Courtesy Visit Myrtle Beach)
The Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Boardwalk and Promenade, which opened just a few 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).
Myrtle Beach’s miles of sand, golf, 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.
Can't wait to hit the beach? 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, wgmyrtlebeach.com).
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Celebrate your freedom in the nation’s capital, where it seems just about every attraction is 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 and the endless galleries and exhibits of the Smithsonian Institution to the National Archives (you may have heard of some of its contents—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution?) and Library of Congress, this town offers more in the way of freebies than anywhere else.
On the mall, pay a visit to the National Gallery, 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. 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, including perfect beaches and tropical cocktails, without the sticker shock you might expect. Punta Cana, pictured here, is a popular affordable destination in the DR.
The indulgent Dominican Republic experience is surprisingly budget-friendly thanks to all-inclusive resorts, reasonably priced hotels and apartments, and a relaxed vibe that translates into Total Relaxation.
The Dominican Republic's beaches may bring out the kid in you.
The pool at the DR's La Punta Apartments looks good right about now, huh? The hotel's rates may look even better (from $52 for one guest, $80 for two, lapuntacabarete.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. Point Pleasant's Jenkinson's Boardwalk 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. You'll rub elbows with in-the-know New Yorkers, Philadelphians, and Jersey girls and boys who love the surf and sand in spring.
For an old-timey boardwalk experience, the rides and games at Point Pleasant can't be beat. Located about 70 miles south of New York City and about 75 miles northeast of Philadelphia, this place starts hopping on weekends in April.
Point Pleasant is a popular spot for beach volleyball, including major tournaments. After your day at the beach, bunk down at The White Sands, a friendly and comfy set of motels right on the beach (from $150, thewhitesands.com).
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: The Big Easy, with its distinctive French Quarter architecture, is easier than ever once Mardi Gras crowds have headed home.
(Courtesy Alaskan Dude/Flickr)
New Orleans hotels are as friendly and welcoming as the city's inhabitants. We love Maison St. Charles (from $139, maisonstcharles.com).
(Courtesy Maison St. Charles Inn and Suites)
New Orleans's iconic St. Louis Cathedral is one of the historical sites you must experience. And 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 hand-in-hand sunset stroll along the water may be the higlight of your New Orleans visit.
(Lawrence Weslowski Jr/Dreamstime)
SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA: Your own private island? Well, Sanibel about as close as you’ll find. Of all the things you can do here, the best of all may be… nothing!
Sanibel Island's bridge is deceptively modern and bustling—but once you're on the island, the long list of things you can do involves warm sand, subtropical breezes, sun-worship, reading, and, of course, swimming.
Lighthouse lovers will want to take a gander at Sanibel's iconic sentinel. After your trek, check into the Tropical Winds Beachfront Motel and Cottages and you'll enjoy a private beach and outdoor pool. While you may experience a little sticker shock, trust us, Tropical Winds is a worth-it splurge that offers the best rates on this coveted island (from $269, sanibeltropicalwinds.com).
After a day at the beach in Sanibel, 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. Yes, you can enjoy America's most popular national park, a major nearby theme park, and miles of trails and streams for under $100 per night!
Head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for fishing, hiking, and scenic drives like the six-mile Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. If you're lucky enough to spot a bear cub, keep your distance—they are way cuter from far away.
Not far from the park's peerless, peaceful natural wonders, the food, culture, and music of Tennessee (including the 150-acre Dollywood theme park) are alive in the Great Smoky Mountains region. A short drive from the park, we recommend The Park Vista DoubleTree by Hilton Gatlinburg, which features two restaurants, an indoor pool, and mountain views (from $99, 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. And if the thrill of hearing French—and tasting continental treats like fresh croissants—ever wears 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 (pictured here), not to mention 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 to Europe. Stay at Le Square Phillips Hotel & Suites (from $107, squarephillips.com).
CAPE ANN, MASSACHUSETTS: Rockport, Massachusetts's inner harbor is an evocative New England scene on Cape Ann.
(Bambi L. Dingman/Dreamstime)
This Cape Ann state park is built on the site of a former quarry. We love Cape Ann's expansive beaches, frothy seas, wonderfully old-fashioned Main Streets, historic lighthouses, and some of the freshest locally sourced meals around, all shockingly affordable compared with better-known (and infinitely pricier) beach destinations along the Massachusetts coast.
The famous gazebo on the Front Beach in Rockport. We also love the 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 on Cape Ann—and, yes, that's a lobster shack in the background. We heartily recommend Blue Shutters Beachside Inn, in Gloucester, for its comfortable rooms with beach views and a welcoming living room with a fireplace (from $90, blueshuttersbeachside.com).
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA: It’s always open, it’s always jumping, and it’s always shockingly 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! Vegas's kitschy must-sees include the Mob Museum and retro finds like Champagnes Café, which does its best to bring '50s chic back to life (702/737-1699). For lodging, we love The D (from $29 per night plus $20 resort fee, thed.com).
(Courtesy Caitlyn Willows/Flickr)