If quieter harbors and more relaxed shorelines are in your plans this year, here are the seven best lesser-known and off-the-grid Spring Break destinations you may want to check out instead.
1. Gulf Coast, AL
Just minutes from the Florida state line (and not too far from the Mississippi line) on the Alabama Gulf Coast are the barrier shoreline towns of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. The two resort cities on either side of Gulf State Park make up most of the Alabama coast on the Gulf of Mexico, a unique family Spring Break destination.
The Alabama Gulf Shores offer pristine white sand beaches and all the Spring Break adventure you could desire like parasailing, Segway tours and even dolphin cruises.
And come nighttime, affordable fresh Gulf seafood can be had at nearly every restaurant on the shore. Pubs overflow with the local-favorite drink, the Alabama Bushwacker, a concoction containing light and coconut rum and coffee liqueur served with vanilla ice cream, caramel syrup and whipped cream (sub soda pop for the liquor for a great kid’s treat).
An alternative to Panama City Beach, FL
2. Crystal River, FL
Sure, your friends can come back from their Spring Break bragging of DJs on the beach or five-star hotels, but how many of them can say they spent their break cavorting with hundreds of manatees? You can on Florida’s Nature Coast in Crystal River, the “Home of the Manatee.”
Crystal River’s Kings Bay is also a popular Spring Break destination for the manatees. Every winter – peaking around spring break time – up to 400 of the easy-going sea mammals gather in the warm Bay as the Gulf of Mexico cools. And you don’t have to just watch! Crystal River is the only place in America where you can legally swim and interact with manatees in their native habitat. For more family nature adventure, hit up the Crystal River Preserve and Crystal River Archaeological State Parks.
An alternative to Key West, FL
3. Santa Barbara, CA
Santa Barbara, an unassuming town about two hours north of L.A., isn’t where you’d typically think about spending Spring Break. But what Santa Barbara has is a little bit of everything for everyone. Beaches? Sure. Sunny parks? Yep. Historic locales? Absolutely. Mountains? A short drive inland.
Santa Barbara is a perfect mix of spring break enjoyment for those looking for activity and festivity and those who just wish to chill out and relax. Beaches are accessible and just off downtown and thanks to its alignment parallel to the wind currents, the city’s comfortable temperatures and low humidity led to being named Best Weather City in the nation in 2018 by U.S. News and World Report.
After dark, nightlife of any type can be found, from sophisticated pubs and rowdy college bars with live music to upscale dining and family-friendly beach grills.
An alternative to Baja California, Mexico
4. Little St. Simons Island, GA
Part of the Georgia coast’s Golden Isles, Little St. Simon’s Island is a large barrier island with 11,000 acres of natural beauty and seven miles of beaches. What Little St. Simon’s Island doesn’t have is people. The entire island – just a half-hour from the city of Brunswick, GA – has been privately owned since 1760. The only structures on the island belong to the Lodge on Little St. Simon’s, an all-inclusive resort that accommodates a maximum of 32 guests. For the entire island.
Accessible solely by ferry, the island not only offers visitors a charming lodge stay with five daily meals included and personalized guest service, but also maritime forests, Atlantic marshlands, secluded fishing spots, private swimming in the surf, hiking, crabbing, kayaking, a plethora of untamed wildlife – from alligators to bald eagles to sea turtles – and miles of pristine beaches.
For couples and families looking for an undisturbed Spring Break, you’re in luck. There are no phones or TVs available for guests anywhere on the island. Not your speed? Day passes are available, so just snag a rental in Brunswick and hop on the ferry!
An alternative to Kiawah Island, SC
5. Crystal Coast, NC
At the eastern end of North Carolina’s Crystal Coast lies barrier island Bogue Banks and the key Southern Outer Banks resort communities of Pine Knoll Shores and Atlantic Beach, named one of the “Best Spring Break Destinations” by Outside Magazine.
This gem along the Carolina central shore features miles of wide sandy beaches, fresh seafood and Carolina barbecue joints and a beyond-authentic coastal maritime experience.
Kids and adults alike will be captivated by the actual pirate treasure rescued from the sunken wreckage of Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge – which sunk just off Crystal Coast – at the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Enjoy hands-on family learning fun at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores or view the free-roaming wild Banker horses just across Beaufort Inlet at Shackleford Banks.
A myriad of lodging options are available, from charming seaside cottages to traditional beach bungalows to colossal oceanfront mansions, known to the locals as “sandcastles.”
An alternative to Myrtle Beach, SC
6. Port Aransas, TX
If everything is indeed bigger in Texas, then the family fun is extra-sized in Port Aransas, the only town on Mustang Island. With a year-round population of just 3,400, this resort village swells to 60,000 during the summer. But in 2017, all that was in serious jeopardy as Hurricane Harvey rolled through with winds upwards of 132 m.p.h.
Fortunately, the town – just across the ship channel from Corpus Christi – is bouncing back and hotels, restaurants and beaches are up and running. But the going is still slow, so if you’re looking for a great place to drop your money and boost the economy, spend your Spring Break in Port Aransas.
The bars, pizza joints, coffee shops and bait and tackles have mostly reopened, and one of the town’s jewels, the Port Aransas Art Center, continues to anchor the burgeoning arts community. But Spring Break requires sandy shores, and thankfully, Port Aransas’ miles of Texas beaches endure for your sunbathing and Frisbee pleasure.
An alternative to South Padre Island, TX
7. Atlantic Beach, FL
Looking for a Florida beach getaway a short drive from a big city? Well, the beautiful enclave of Atlantic Beach is just a short drive away from Jacksonville, America’s biggest city (why yes, J-ville is the largest city in the continental U.S. – by area!).
One of the five “Jacksonville Beaches,” Atlantic Beach is a laid-back, generally residential area that transforms into a family-friendly Spring Break haven come March and April. For surf-town fun, rent yourself a vibrantly-colored bungalow on the beach then grab a board to hang ten or rent a pedal cruiser to bike the trails.
For a quieter retreat, take a short drive to Little Talbot Island State Park where you can hike through the forest or along the dunes, camp beachside or visit a 19th-century shipwreck embedded in the beach by the tides. But if you’re craving the bustle of the city, downtown Jacksonville is just 25 minutes to the west.
An alternative to Miami Beach, FL