Editor’s Note: As the pandemic evolves, travel rules can shift at a moment's notice. Be sure to read the health and safety protocols and requirements for visitors to any destination, as well as those of airlines, car rentals and hotels before you book, and again before you travel.
Google “spring break” and you’ll get dozens of suggestions for beach parties in sunny states. But what if you want a break from winter’s chill without getting a sunburn or sand in your shoes?
You don’t have to give up on great weather to have a more cultural, active or mature week away from home. Fortunately, traditional spring-break magnets—such as Florida, America’s national parks and Mexico—offer plenty of alternative vacation experiences.
New Orleans, Louisiana
A trip to New Orleans will fill your Instagram feed with beautiful pics, your belly with sumptuous food, and your memory with unforgettable experiences—all without costing a fortune.
Spring in this Louisiana city means fresh seafood, and the city’s restaurants and bars are known for happy hours where you can indulge on a budget. The Half Shell on the Bayou’s happy hour offers $1 oysters—any way you want them—Wednesday to Friday, 4 to 7 p.m., plus margaritas and mojitos for just $5. At Seaworthy, happy hour features select oysters for half-off. Spring is also crawfish season in NOLA, and you’ll find them fresh or boiled at many restaurants and markets across the city. Be sure to stop by Café Du Monde in the French Market for its famous beignets and café au lait.
Get your food to go and dine outdoors. Audubon Park is in historic uptown New Orleans, alongside the Audubon Zoo, which has consistently ranked among the top zoos in the country. City Park’s Couturie Forest on Harrison Avenue is a 60-acre nature oasis in the city, with plenty of trails to while away the afternoon hiking; it’s also a bird-watching hot spot, with birders typically catching glimpses of 40 species in a single outing. You could also head to Big Lake for biking or boating.
Beside Big Lake sits the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA), which is a sight to behold with its classic Greek architecture. Next to NOMA is Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden that features more than 60 sculptures by renowned international artists. Another natural getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city is the New Orleans Botanical Garden, which features more than 2,000 plants from around the globe.
NOMA is just one the city’s more than 50 museums. Check out the National WWII Museum to learn more about our nation’s military history or the New Orleans Jazz Museum to learn about the origins of Jazz. Visit the Backstreet Cultural Museum in the oldest African-American neighborhood in the U.S. or the New Orleans African American Museum for a different perspective on our country’s history. Or, head to Mardi Gras World or the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes & Culture for a dose of the NOLA festive spirit.
NEA member discounts on travel: Search for flight deals to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) through the NEA Travel Program. You also can book a hotel room with NEA member discount rates. Consider the Hilton New Orleans Riverside—near the aquarium—for less than $100/night; the Wyndham New Orleans – French Quarter for about $100/night; or the New Orleans Marriott near Harrah’s casino for about $130/night this spring.
Florida boasts 1,350 miles of coastline—more than any state other than Alaska—but the Sunshine State also has hundreds of non-beach attractions.
Everglades National Park protects 1.5 million acres of wilderness, home to crocodiles, alligators and 40 species of mammals, including manatees, dolphins and the Florida panther. Rent a canoe or kayak to glide along the park’s water trails, which give you a better chance of spotting some of the park’s more than 360 species of birds.
Hop in your car (there’s no public transport within the park) and access the Everglades National Park from three entrances in three different cities. There’s an entrance in Homestead, another in the Greater Miami Area and the last one in Everglades City.
NEA member discounts on travel: Miami International Airport (MIA) is the closest airport, followed by Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL). If you’re entering the park from the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, you can also fly into the Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) in Fort Myers. Save on airfare through NEA Travel. And, while you might think beachfront hotels are out of your budget, check NEA Travel’s offerings for places like the Holiday Inn Miami Beach – Oceanfront with rates of $175 or less—even during spring break. The ritzy Kimpton Surfcomber Hotel is just a little bit more expensive at $183/night.
The National Park Service offers a variety of educational opportunities related to the Everglades. The park offers curriculum materials for grades K-8.
National Parks in Western States
Our national parks have provided millions of Americans some much-needed respite from the confines of their homes during the novel coronavirus pandemic. These wide-open spaces became the go-to spots to breathe in some fresh air and take in beautiful natural scenery while still allowing us to maintain social distancing. Come spring, national parks will be a great alternative to a traditional beach vacation.
In Wyoming's Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, you'll find bears emerging from their hibernation and migrating birds starting to arrive. You can hop on a bike in Yellowstone and watch for bison, elk, wolves and other wildlife.
In Grand Teton, look for bison and pronghorn (like a deer) along Mormon Row and Antelope Flats road; nesting raptors and bald eagles, curious young wolf pups, coyotes and more can also be seen in the area.
If you’re into birds, travel to Utah's Zion. The national park is home to 291 bird species, including the peregrine falcon, the bald eagle, the California condor, the Mexican spotted owl, the American dipper and more.
If you’re looking for solitude, head to Canyonlands National Park, also in Utah. The Maze, one of the park’s four regions or districts, is the most isolated and offers backpacking, hiking and off-roading for experienced explorers. There’s also the Mesa Arch, a 500-foot cliff with a 50-foot stone window, and the Grand View Overlook, which provides a view of the Monument Basin.
If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks, it might make sense to get the $80 national park pass. With each national park admission typically costing $35, which is good for entrance of one private vehicle for seven days, you’ll save money if you’re planning on visiting three or more parks within the year. The annual pass also allows you to skip the line at many busy park entrances.
NEA member travel benefits: Look for discounted flights to Yellowstone: Check Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN), Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD) or Yellowstone Airport (WYS). Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is the best for Grand Teton. Fly to McCarran International (LAS) for Zion and to Salt Lake City (SLC) for Canyonlands. You can also book discounted hotel rooms and rental cars via NEA Travel.
Mexico is rich with history—much of which predates the Spanish conquistadors. The Maya ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza offer spectacular stone monuments and temples. Tulum is only about two hours south of the tourist-clad beaches of Cancun; Chichen Itza is about two hours to the west.
Los Cabos is another Mexican destination that's lovely in the springtime. It's composed of Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and the 20-mile Resort Corridor between them. A must-see is the El Arco, a famous rock formation located at the southern tip of Cabo San Lucas.
You could also join a whale watching tour to observe migrating humpback and gray whales. Explore downtown, starting with San Jose del Cabo’s Art District, where you’ll find local creations and Mexican traditional art alongside international artwork.
Or, try popular sports, such as bouldering, zip line, ATV rides and various watersports. There’s also a quaint village about an hour south of the city known as “Pueblo Magico” (Magic Town). This is Todos Santos, and here you can admire Mexican arts and crafts, view colonial buildings, sample regional food or buy local products.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN) and you can reach San Jose del Cabo via Los Cabos International Airport (SJD). Search for well-priced flights at NEA Travel. You can also find discounts on resorts across Mexico. In Cabo San Lucas, two people can spend seven nights at the Tesoro Los Cabos from $684 or the Villa Del Palmar Beach Resort & Spa for $881. Starting from $1,346, two people can enjoy a seven-night stay at the all-inclusive El Encanto Resort at Hacienda Encant.