The arrival of March brings spring to much of the northern hemisphere. And after months of gray days and long nights, it’s about time. Now’s the moment to shake off the winter blues and last bits of snow with an incredible spring getaway.
Our list features top spring-break destinations – with a couple of surprises thrown in – that are all accessible from major North American airports. Whether you’re looking to thaw out in the Caribbean, sunbathe among the stars in Los Angeles or go kayaking by night through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico, we’ve got the perfect spring break trip for you.
Explore the Big Island for spring break © Tec Petaja / Lonely Planet
1. Hawai‘i (the Big Island), Hawaii
With year-round temperatures that hover between 70°F (21°C) and 80°F (27°C), there’s never a bad time to head to the Big Island. Yet March marks the end of the high season, and budget travelers can usually find discounts on the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Trek up toward snow-capped peaks, wander through a verdant Kona coffee farm and watch the island get just a little bit bigger at one of the longest-running volcanic eruptions anywhere in the world.
Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
2. San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
While Nicaragua might not be on your spring-break radar, the laid-back atmosphere at San Juan del Sur, the country’s premier surfing hub, will banish any doubts. Take surf lessons and experience some of the area’s world-class breaks, or hop around the neighboring coastline to visit the nearby string of glistening beaches: Playa Maderas, Playa Majagual, Playa El Coco, Playa Hermosa…the list goes on and on. Party animals, don’t despair: down an ice-cold Toña or a stout rum cocktail at one of the town’s lively bars, try craft beer at the local cervecería or take a boozy catamaran cruise out into the bay.
A skier descending a mountain near Whistler, BC © Alan V. Young / Moment / Getty
3. Whistler, Canada
For those who’d rather trade in the surfboard for skis on their spring break, head to the Coast Mountain resort town of Whistler, British Columbia. By March, the peak season has begun to die down, and the resorts offer up great deals to keep the winter momentum going.
Longer days, clearer skies and a good snowpack make a spring in Whistler the perfect choice for both skiers and snowboarders. For 360-degree views of this alpine arcadia, take a ride in the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, a 4.4km (2.75-mile) feat of engineering that connects the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. At lower elevations, hikes through conifer forests might have you spotting the area’s black bears as they emerge from hibernation.
Los Angeles is fun during spring break – or any other time © Layland Masuda / Getty Images
4. Los Angeles, California
Sun, sand and surf (three spring-break essentials) can be found in abundance in Los Angeles. Famous beaches such as Santa Monica and Venice offer as much in the way of people watching and partying as they do in lazing and sunbathing.
Other spots like Hermosa and Manhattan Beaches are less known by tourists but are just as popular with locals, especially surfers. For a much quieter (read: hungover) day at the beach, head for Malibu and Belmont Shore.
Lunch with a view of Rio de Janeiro © Johnny Greig / Getty Images
5. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
As one of South America’s premier beach destinations, Rio de Janeiro has something to offer every type of spring breaker: stunning panoramas, fantastic food and a variety of outdoor adventures that will make yours a spring break to remember.
You’ll catch some of Brazil’s best rays on the sunny shores of the “Cidade Maravilhosa” (Marvelous City). pick a post on Ipanema Beach to see and be seen, or join the ranks of other tourists on Copacabana’s hotel-lined oceanfront. Take the cable car up to Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain) or bask in the colossal shadow of Cristo Redentor atop Corcovado by day. Then hit the bar scene in Botafogo or party to the sounds of samba in the clubs of Lapa by night.
6. Southern Baja California, Mexico
Away from the tourist resorts of Los Cabos, Baja California Sur has plenty of options for a more back-to-nature spring-break experience. The weather is ideal at this time of year, and the beautiful coastline offers the chance to swim with sea lions, kayak through turquoise waters, go whale watching (the season ends in March) and even help with turtle conservation, all of which will allow you to return home with ecological bragging rights rather than drinking stories.
Relax on a beach in Tampa Bay, Florida © Clayton Townsend / Shutterstock
7. Tampa Bay, Florida
Florida all but invented the concept of spring break, but hotspots like Miami and Panama City Beach – the ultimate spring-break capital – typically snare the spotlight. This is a shame, because there are plenty of gems to discover in the state’s southwest region. We recommend the area around Tampa Bay, where 35-plus miles of dune-dotted, white beaches along the Gulf of Mexico promise traditional sun-and-sand relaxation.
Fort DeSoto Park, with seven miles of sand and excellent trails and wildlife-spotting opportunities, is a standout. Meanwhile, the cities of Tampa and St Petersburg beckon with creative, seafood-rich dining options, innovative craft brewers like bike-themed Cycle Brewing and surprising cultural offerings like St Pete’s Dali Museum.
8. Culebra & Vieques, Puerto Rico
You won’t find any resort ragers here – and that’s the beauty of it. These two sister islands off the east coast of Puerto Rico are the things that tropical dreams are made of: white sand, sparkling blue sea and slow living. Tiny Culebra is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. Relax in the sun on Playa Flamenco’s divine arc of sand, or swim with sea turtles at Playa Carlos Rosario, one of Puerto Rico’s best snorkeling sites.
At 21 miles in length, Vieques is a bit larger, and its wildlife refuge is home to myriad beaches all beckoning for exploration. Sip piña coladas at Sun Bay Balneario, lounge on expansive Playa La Chiva and snorkel at the aptly named Playa Escondida (“Hidden Beach”). Vieques’ crown jewel is Bahía Mosquito, its bioluminescent bay. Venture out on a nighttime kayak trip to witness one of nature’s best magic shows, as microscopic organisms glow in the dark below the surface, making the water glitter.
9. Asheville, North Carolina
Southern charm, a thriving food scene and plenty of options for outdoor adventures: Asheville is the perfect spring-break destination for travelers looking to compile a vacation itinerary beyond the beach. This small city in the Appalachian foothills is a haven for beer fans, with more craft breweries per capita than any other city in the USA. The food scene ranges from Southern classics like Tupelo Honey to authentic Spanish tapas at local favorite Cúrate.
Visit America’s largest home, The Biltmore, with its manicured grounds and gardens to explore on foot or by bike. Those looking for a spring break spent in the great outdoors won’t be disappointed either: Asheville is a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking or spotting wildlife like black bear, elk and red-bellied woodpeckers. Outdoorsy types can also take to the peaceful French Broad River, with opportunities for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
Phoenix, Arizona provides incredible access to the outdoors © MarkSkalny / Getty Images / iStockphoto
10. Phoenix, Arizona
Phoenix, Arizona, can be blistering in the summer months, but springtime in the Valley of the Sun is just right – especially if you want to escape the grey, damp dregs of winter back home. Phoenix offers plenty of options to unwind, too, whether your idea of spring break means getting your vitamin D while playing outdoors or soaking it up along with a few cocktails at your nearest bar patio.
Stay at the Camby Hotel for easy access to shopping, hiking at Camelback Mountain and Piestewa Peak Park, and admire the array of succulents, cacti and other native plants at the Desert Botanical Garden. Grab brunch on the retro lanai at Windsor before driving out to Chandler (just south of Tempe) to sample craft beers amid 50 rescued, rainbow-hued tropical birds at The Perch Brewery. Downtown, stroll the Roosevelt Row Arts District, where you can munch and sip your way from the Phoenix Public Market to Angel’s Trumpet Alehouse, with stops at galleries and record stores in between. After you’ve caught one of Phoenix’s technicolored desert sunsets, hole up at late-night haunts with great rooftop patios like the Grapevine for karaoke, or Valley Bar and Crescent Ballroom for cocktails, live music, DJ sets or arty community parties.
Sea lions play in the shallow waters just off Bartholomew Islet, Galápagos Islands © Andrew Peacock / Getty Images
11. The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Love the idea of spending spring break on an island but loathe the partying masses? The Galápagos Islands are the answer for nature-loving, adventure-seeking travelers. This otherworldly archipelago lies 563 miles off the coast of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean and is home to some of the earth’s rarest and most unique flora and fauna.
The human footprint on the Galápagos is minimal and its biodiversity is unmatched – endemic species such as giant tortoises, marine iguanas and blue-footed boobies roam the islands at ranges close enough to interact with. Go surfing, kayaking, biking or scuba diving near the town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on Isla San Cristóbal, or snorkel alongside stingrays, turtles and the occasional shark at Devil’s Crown, one of the archipelago’s most outstanding marine sites.
There are plenty of feel-good ways to get involved with conservation and social-development initiatives around the islands, too. Programs like IOI Galapagos offer opportunities to earn class credits through university partnerships while giving back to the community.