Editor’s Note: NEA Member Benefits understands how much you love to travel and how much you’ve missed it. As states begin to relax their regulations with regard to COVID-19 and more Americans become vaccinated, travel is opening up more and more. Before planning a trip, read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before booking and again before traveling.
Are you ready to put winter behind you? There’s no better place to get in the mood for spring than at a flower festival. Not even COVID-19 can stop nature’s progress: Most of the best flower festivals in the U.S. are still happening in 2021, with some modifications. Some shows have postponed their opening dates while others will stage their events completely outdoors in a socially distanced way.
If you love a good flower show we’ve found 8 festivals to look forward to, listed in chronological order below, plus you can use your NEA membership benefits to find deals on airfare, rental cars and hotels to help you get there.
Frolic in the flower fields at Carlsbad Ranch in Carlsbad, California (March 1–9)
From early March to early May, the rolling hills of North San Diego County put on a colorful display of giant Tecolote ranunculus flowers to signal the arrival of spring in Southern California. These flowers bloom for roughly six to eight weeks on the nearly 50-acre field at Carlsbad Ranch. Introduced by an early settler, the flowers are now considered part of the area's heritage.
Aside from the flowers, the ranch has a 1,500-square-foot greenhouse with Ecke poinsettias, a sweet pea maze, a cymbidium orchid greenhouse, American flag-themed flower bed and various other themed gardens. Don't miss the tractor-driven wagon rides ($6 for adults, $3 for kids 3–10 years old). Or, have a family picnic on-site and hike up the hills for incredible views of the coastline and Pacific Ocean.
The ranch hosts live entertainment and special events during the blooming season. Plus, fresh-cut flowers, bulbs, potted plants and more are sold in the Armstrong Garden Center Gift Shop. Admission to the fields is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors 60+ and $10 for children ages 3–10.
Travel benefits for NEA members: Through the NEA Travel Program, you can search for deals on flights to San Diego International Airport (35 miles from Carlsbad); book a rental car for the drive to the flower festival; and look for affordable lodging options such as Homewood Suites, Carlsbad by the Sea, Hilton Garden Inn and many more.
Lesson-plan resources: Introduce Grade 2–7 students to plant reproduction and pollination.
Cherish spring at the International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia (March 19–28)
There are more than 350,000 Yoshino cherry trees in Macon, and they typically bloom for about two weeks beginning in the last week of March. The International Cherry Blossom Festival is held annually to celebrate this explosion of beauty. You can look forward to concerts, a lantern lighting and even a wiener dog race. Food trucks will set up along Third Street to satiate the appetites of cherry blossom viewers. Take your food to go and follow the Cherry Blossom Trail.
On the final day of the festival, the Macon Pops will perform live and kids can have fun bouncing on an inflatable bounce house. There will also be tethered hot air balloons, which you can hop on for $10 per ride. And, if the festival has inspired your green thumb, you can purchase a Yoshino cherry tree at the Round Building in Central City Park for $10.
Travel benefits for NEA members: You can fly to Middle Georgia Regional Airport (MCN) or Macon Downtown Airport (MAC) on Sun Country Airlines, or fly to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), which is just an hour’s drive from Macon. Check for discounted airfare using your NEA member benefits. You can also get a great deal on hotels ranging from the Red Roof Inn & Suites Macon to the Macon Marriott City Center.
Tiptoe through the tulips in Skagit Valley, Washington (April 1–30)
You’ve probably seen photos of the tulip fields in Washington state’s Skagit Valley. The vibrant colors are the centerpiece of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Bring your camera for a self-driving tour of the tulip farms that stretch from Mount Vernon and Burlington to La Conner. As of late January, the organizers were still busy planning the event, but details should be available closer to the festival date.
Travel benefits for NEA members: Book your flight to Seattle (SEA), just an hour’s drive from Skagit Valley, via NEA Travel: Airfare. And check for hotel deals to stay at a charming establishment such as the Anacortes Ship Harbor Inn or at the Best Western Skagit Valley Inn.
Count the flowers at Biltmore Blooms in Asheville, North Carolina (April 1–May 27)
American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted stretched spring into three months when he designed the gardens at Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. In early spring, daffodils and forsythia illuminate the gardens with a bright yellow glow, while 1,000 blooming orchids decorate the conservatory. Next, 96,000 tulips show their vibrant hues before the blossoms of native azalea, rhododendron, roses, annuals and perennials complete the blooming cycle.
The festival offers complimentary wine tastings at the winery. Plus, there will be outdoor activities, shops and restaurants. A daytime admission ticket includes a self-guided tour inside the Biltmore House, including access to the historic gardens and Antler Hill Village. There, children can have a blast petting baby goats, lambs, chicks and bunnies at the barnyard. At night, watch Antler Hill Village put on a dazzling display of festive lights. Tickets start at $54, kids 10 to 16 are charged half price, and children 9 and under are admitted for free. Save up to $8 by purchasing tickets online. The Biltmore also offers $10 off the ticket price to military veterans and seniors.
Travel benefits for NEA members: Search for affordable flights to Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) at NEA Travel: Airfare and look for lodgings via NEA Travel: Hotels. You could stay at places like The Inn on Biltmore Estate or the Hampton Inn & Suites Asheville-I-26.
Lesson-plan resources: Learn about honeybees in the garden.
Catch spring fever in the garden in Winter Garden, Florida (April 10–11)
Set in the historic downtown of Winter Garden in Orange County, Florida, Spring Fever in the Garden—a free event—turns 11 in 2021. Flowers and other plants will be on display and for sale. Whether you're taking home a new plant or not, don’t miss the Ask the Experts booth to get answers to your pressing landscaping, lawn, pest and garden-related issues. The event is dog-friendly, but you'll also see owls and raptors at the Avian Reconditioning Center booth. Plus, a sidewalk chart art contest will really inspire your creative spirit.
There will be a space for kids at the KIDZONE booth. Children will learn about nature and the environment, as well as have some fun with crafts, face painting, balloon animals and more.
You can grab food from on-site vendors and enjoy entertainment ranging from pop to jazz to folk music. Download the Winter Garden app to check out the event map, buy merchandise, discover deals and join a scavenger hunt contest.
Travel benefits for NEA members: Winter Garden is a half-hour drive from Orlando so book a flight via NEA Travel: Airfare to Orlando International Airport (MCO) and then pick from many affordable hotels in the area through NEA Travel: Hotels.
Lesson-plan resources: Learn about Florida's wildflowers from Florida Wildflower Foundation.
Celebrate history at the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival in Michigan (June 4–13)
For 10 days in June, lilacs are the stars on this car-free island in Michigan. Stroll Mackinac’s streets and country lanes where some of North America’s oldest living lilacs scent the air with their heady fragrance. But there’s more to the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival besides touring purple-colored gardens. Join the festival’s 10K run/walk or enjoy free concerts, a dog and pony show and many more family-friendly events. But whatever you do, don’t miss the horse-drawn carts and carriages, decorated with lilacs, of course, in the Lilac Festival Grand Parade.
Travel benefits for NEA members: Let NEA Travel help you book an inexpensive flight to Chippewa County International Airport (CIU). Then it’s just a rental car and ferry ride to the island. Check for member discounts on intimate lodging such as Small Point Bed & Breakfast or Murray Hotel.
Lesson-plan resources: Introduce your students to living and working at Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.
Celebrate Holland at the Philadelphia Flower Show (June 5–13)
Moving outside for the first time since its inception in 1928, the Philadelphia Flower Show invites you to fall in love with gardening all over again. FDR Park will host the event and will include all-new displays as well as activities for gardeners and plant enthusiasts. This year’s theme, "Habitat: Nature's Masterpiece," is posed to inspire you to take the time to admire everything that grows around us. Tickets are $45 for adults, $20 for children 5 to 17, $30 for show-goers 18 to 29 (price available during weekday afternoon sessions only), and free for children 4 and under.
Travel benefits for NEA members: Plenty of airlines fly to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and you can find affordable flights via NEA Travel. Then, book a room at a low-cost hotel such as the Holiday Inn Express Philadelphia Penn's Landing or Home2 Suites by Hilton.