If you have a few days to devote to R&R this spring, consider a quick beginning-of-season beach getaway. Avoid summer crowds and inflated seasonal prices by choosing to travel to some of America’s most popular coastal towns for beach vacations in April, May or early June.
While you may need a sweater for a stroll along the beach in places such as Rhode Island and Washington in April, the weather is warm enough for swimming and sunbathing in Florida and Texas.
Don’t miss these four inexpensive beach vacation options for spring break destinations and early summer getaways:
Orcas Island, Washington
The horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island may only be 57 square miles, but “the Emerald Isle,” or “the Gem of the San Juan Islands” as locals call it, has something to offer—from sea to mountain—for you and your crew.
If you want to keep to the beach, Orcas Island has 77 miles of shoreline worth exploring on your own. Bring the kids along and join the environmental projects of the Orcas Island Youth Conservation Corps or the Indian Island Health Observatory’s efforts to survey marine life of Indian Island and Fishing Bay (check with local businesses or the observatory’s online calendar for the research schedule). You could also board a boat for whale watching-tours courtesy of operators in Eastsound or Deer Harbor or join a kayak excursion to spot crabs, limpets, sea stars, barnacles, anemones and other marine invertebrates.
When you tire of the sea, hike, bike (bicycles can be rented from Wildlife Cycles) or drive up to Mount Constitution—the highest point in the San Juan Islands at 2,409 feet—and marvel at the views from the peak: the Salish Sea dotted with forest-covered islands hugged by fog. You can also go horseback riding through Moran State Park’s 5,252 acres, which includes Cascade Lake, Mountain Lake and three other freshwater lakes, or hike Turtleback Mountain and Obstruction Pass State Park while watching out for bald eagles, rabbits, wild deer, foxes and more.
For those looking for more sites to visit, check out Orcas Island Historical Museums to learn about the island’s diverse ecosystem and history at two different sites on the island.
Ideally, your trip to Orcas Island should be at least a few days, but if you only have several hours to spare, head to the Orcas Island Scenic Byway. This two- to three-hour self-guided tour will ensure you visit the highlights and even some hidden gems in Orcas Island. If you visit the island on a Saturday, make sure to stop by the farmers market on the Village Green for fresh produce, sea glass jewelry and handmade soap.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to get the best prices, and then it’s about a 2.5-hour trip to the island, including the ferry ride. Check NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals like an average of $177/night at Friday harbor Suites or $199/night at Otter’s Pond Bed & Breakfast. You can also camp at Moran State Park.
South Padre Island, Texas
Located just north of the Mexican border on Texas’ Gulf Coast, South Padre Island boasts miles of white sand beaches along the sparkling turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, making it perfect for strolling or sunbathing.
The island also offers a chance to get up close and personal with the local wildlife. A favorite spot is Sea Turtle, Inc., dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles for release back into the wild. You can even meet Allison, the first sea turtle to be successfully outfitted with a prosthetic flipper.
Take to the water on a dolphin-watching cruise and see Atlantic bottlenose dolphins frolic. If you’re an angler, enjoy onshore, offshore or deep-sea fishing, and even have your catch cooked up at a local restaurant.
South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center offers excellent bird watching along its boardwalks, in one of its five bird blinds or by climbing a five-story observation tower. From there, you can spot white ibises, great blue herons and roseate spoonbills—just a few of the permanent residents. The alligator sanctuary rescues nuisance alligators and is home to Big Padre, Lady Laguna and some 50 juvenile gators at any given time.
You can get your own bird’s-eye view of South Padre Island from the Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site, located just across Queen Isabella Causeway. Built in 1852, it’s the only one of the 16 lighthouses originally built along the Texas coast that’s open to the public.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport (BRO) via NEA Travel: Airfare to get the best prices. The airport is about 22 miles away from the beach. Then head over to NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals like an average of just $47 a night at Blue Bay Inn & Suites, which has a pool and is just a few minutes’ walk to two beaches. For an affordable beachfront resort, book a stay for an average of $110 a night through the portal at Isla Grand Beach Resort, which has two pools, a fitness center and a restaurant and three bars, plus it’s just steps from the beach. For a bit more ($143 a night), you can stay at Hilton Garden Inn South Padre Island Beachfront, which has amenities like pools, hot tubs, a fitness center, a restaurant and bar, and is also on the beach.
Plan your itinerary: City of South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau | Travel Texas
Newport, Rhode Island
Bundle up a bit and get an introduction to the area by walking the 3.5-mile Cliff Walk. You’ll have stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and impressive Gilded Age mansions on the other. You may want to stick to the northern part of the trail, which is paved. The southern half of Cliff Walk covers rough terrain, including rocky shoreline, and is best left to experienced hikers wearing appropriate footwear.
You can also bike or drive the iconic winding 10-mile coastal road Ocean Drive for beautiful views of the iconic cliffs, coastline, lighthouses and parks of Newport.
Afterward, head to one of the opulent mansions you’ve passed on your walk. Some mansions are only open part of the year, but the iconic Breakers, under the auspices of The Preservation Society of Newport County, welcomes visitors throughout the year. Here, you can peek into the former summer “cottage” of the Vanderbilts. Completed in 1895, the Breakers is modeled after an Italian Renaissance palazzo. Thirty- to 90-minute self-guided audio tours are available at the Breakers, Marble House, the Elms and Rosecliff. Tours guided by a docent can be booked at other nearby mansions.
Marble House, also built by the Vanderbilt family and designed by Richard Morris Hunt, contains 500,000 cubic feet of opulent marble to tour. Alva Vanderbilt had a Chinese Tea House constructed on the cliffs and used it to host rallies in favor of women’s right to vote. Visitors can see this historic teahouse as part of the Marble House tour.
If you don’t want to be a landlubber, head out to sea with Classic Cruises of Newport on a sailboat or yacht. Enjoy a stunning view of the city while savoring a sunset cocktail.
NEA member travel benefits: For the great airfare deals, book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to Rhode Island T.F. Green International Airport (PVD), which is about a 40-minute drive from Newport. You can also fly into Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), which is about 90 minutes away, or into Bradley International airport (BDL) in Connecticut, which is just about 2 hours away. Newport has some very pricy luxury hotels, but you can also score spring deals like $112 per night at Atlantic Beach Hotel Newport, $113 per night at the Carriage House Inn, Ascend Hotel Collection and $132 per night at Wyndham Newport Hotel by clicking on NEA Travel: Hotels.
Amelia Island, Florida
This barrier island, located in the northeast corner of the state near Jacksonville, is a great place to enjoy the great outdoors when the weather is nice. Start your visit with a relaxing walk along unbroken miles of beautiful beaches—searching for shells and sharks’ teeth and sticking your toes in the Atlantic Ocean.
Next, explore the island’s waterways by kayak, or rent a bike and cycle along the many trails passing under century-old oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Or bring your clubs along and choose from an array of world-class golf courses on the island. A child-friendly way to explore the island’s waters is with Amelia River Cruises’ shrimping eco tour.
Discover more history at Fort Clinch State Park, built in the mid-1800s. It was seized by Confederate troops at the start of the Civil War and used as a safe haven for blockade runners before being recaptured by Union forces. Visit the on-site museum to learn more, and take time to explore the surrounding 1,400-acre park that’s home to giant tortoises and other wildlife.
While you’re there, check out the historic small-town charms of Fernandina Beach on the north end of the island. This seaport village is chock-full of architecture from the Victorian era, and more than 400 buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, plus there are plenty of charming shops and restaurants to visit.
NEA member travel benefits: The closest airport to Amelia Island is Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), which just over a 30-minute drive away. You can book your flight through the NEA Travel Program for NEA member prices. Then head over to NEA Travel: Hotels to find deals like an average of $127 a night at Hampton Inn Amelia Island, which has a pool and fitness center, and $134 a night at Breakwater Hotel at the Beach, which has a pool, tennis courts and bikes for rent and is just steps from the beach.