How You Can Still Make Spring Break Special This Year

If spring break feels like a challenge this year, know that you’re not alone—coronavirus, or COVID-19, has prompted a second look at nearly every travel plan. A lot of us here at AFAR moonlight as parents, so we can definitely empathize with families grappling with what to do.   

a canyon with a mountain in the background: How You Can Still Make Spring Break Special This Year

But let’s face it: We could all use a little break to spend time with our crew, detach, and, quite frankly, escape from our devices and a relentless news cycle. Spring break 2020 could be as simple as a staycation (have you checked out some of the lesser-known national parks in your area or nearby small towns worth exploring?), or it could be a classic American road trip. For some families, it might mean zeroing in on destinations that haven’t been as affected by the outbreak. Whatever you’re comfortable with, we’re hoping this list of our favorite spring break destinations can offer inspiration and that you come back from vacation feeling refreshed and reconnected with the people who matter most.

Lake Tahoe, California

a tree with a mountain in the background: Tahoe is fun in spring whether there’s ample snow or not.

I hate the bitter cold and I love skiing—so I’ve always loved spring skiing. But now that I have a baby and a toddler, the typically warmer temps and smaller crowds are a huge added draw to hitting the slopes this time of year. Spring skiing can be a bit of a gamble in terms of snowpack (I’m still hoping for a “Miracle March”), though the stakes are a bit lower if you’re skiing or snowboarding with a more novice crew. The trip can be as much about sledding, scenic views, and simply being cozy as it is about getting in those runs (and if it’s really warm, there’s always the option to hit the picturesque shores of the lake). I’m a big fan of the Northstar ski resort, for its wide variety of trails that cater to different abilities—and the resort’s new Constellation Residences, luxury lodgings with access to the Ritz-Carlton amenities. The low-key Diamond Peak ski resort is another favorite of mine for families with younger kids. Head to the town of Truckee (15 minutes from Northstar, and 30 from Diamond Peak) for good third-wave coffee at Coffeeshop, elevated burgers and sophisticated cocktails at Truckee Tavern and Grill, and some cute boutiques.—Michelle Baran, travel news editor

St. Pete Beach and Orlando, Florida 

a sunset over a beach next to the ocean: Florida’s Gulf Coast is a great place to rest and relax before or after a trip to Walt Disney World.

I know what you’re thinking: “Florida, how original. Just me and a million families on the same spring break schedule.” But what I love about this trip is the pairing of a beach vacation with a hit of Disney—St. Pete Beach is only a three-hour drive from Orlando, so you could split your trip in two and not burn out on theme parks. My family has flown directly to Tampa from New York (JetBlue currently has nonstop, three-hour flights from JFK), rented a car, and made a beeline for Postcard Inn on the Beach, a colorful, retro-surf-inspired hotel right on a stretch of pristine white sand, with a heated pool and beach bar; a low-key lobby restaurant with a killer barbecue bacon cheeseburger; and ping-pong, a pool table, and enough board games to keep older kids busy. Meanwhile, my absolute favoriteDalí museum—I even like it better than the Dalí museum outside Barcelona—is a 20-minute drive away. After you’ve eased into vacation mode, head over to Orlando where Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge awaits.—Laura Dannen Redman, digital content director

Costa Rica

a brown bear walking in the grass: Oh, the animals you will see in Costa Rica’s Manuel Antonio National Park (like this here white-nosed coati).

Costa Rica is one of the more visitor-friendly destinations on the planet. The country takes care of its sloths, monkeys, and whales and their habitats, a welcoming spirit infuses the culture, and in recent years, improved roads have made family trips even easier. And the weather’s always good. You can’t see the whole country in a week, and you shouldn’t try, but pick a spot or two and no matter where you go, you’ll have a satisfying spring break. Last year, we flew into San Jose, rented a car and drove to the Manuel Antonio area. Manuel Antonio National Park has gotten more crowded, which was a little disappointing, but from the pool at the Si Como No hotel, we watched a sloth hang out in the treetops. Then we drove down to the Osa Peninsula, where the nature is wilder and the roads are bumpier. We saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, sloths, dolphins, whales, frogs—and don’t get me started on the birds. A nature walk we took at our lodge, Bosque del Cabo, even got the whole family into ants. On a previous visit, my wife and I visited Arenal, Monteverde, and Manuel Antonio, another fun itinerary. —Jeremy Saum, executive editor


a waterfall with a mountain in the background: Get off of Iceland’s well-worn tourist trail and head north to less-visited sites such as the Dettifoss waterfall.

You might have heard that Iceland has problems with overtourism. This is only sort of true, in the same way you could say New York City is always filled with selfie stick–wielding hordes. It just depends on where you go. Most visitors to the country stick to Reykjavík and the 190-mile Golden Circle, which hits three of the country’s most popular attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. But the rest of Iceland is actually, mostly, blissfully quiet. For the past few years, my husband and I have taken advantage of significantly cheaper flights and accommodations in Iceland ahead of the country’s peak season, summer, and traveled there during the spring. The days are full of sun, the temps are in the 40s and 50s, and wildflowers are starting to return. Plus, you can do—and see—a lot in a long weekend or five days: I’m a big fan of driving the Diamond Circle in the country’s northeast, which comprises the four main attractions of Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss waterfall, the horseshoe-shaped Ásbyrgi canyon, and the picturesque town of Húsavík, known as Iceland’s “whale capital.” —Katherine LaGrave, digital features editor

San Diego

a sunset over a body of water: San Diego is a vacation paradise for families.

San Diego’s climate is almost embarrassingly perfect year-round (the temperatures average between the 60s and 70s much of the year, with almost no humidity) but springtime—when the Los Angeles region farther north can get a bit gray and overcast—is especially alluring. It’s one giant outdoor playground for families, with the world-class San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, umpteen miles of sandy beaches (you can’t go wrong with La Jolla with its beautiful bluffs), the calm waters of Mission Bay, and the compact oceanside Belmont Park amusement zone vying for attention. In late May, Legoland throws open the doors to its additional waterpark. My favorite memory, though, is marauding through a room lined with mattresses and soft tires with my three-year-old at the excellent Children’s Discovery Museum. —Tim Chester, senior digital editor

Sedona, Arizona

a canyon with a mountain in the background: Grab the kids and head to Sedona for hiking and cosmic encounters.

Spring is a great time to explore the desert before the temperatures get too high. Few desert landscapes are as scenic as the striking red rocks of Sedona. The combination of endless trails (that cater to a wide range of abilities) and the charming quirkiness of a destination thought to have cosmic energy makes this outdoor playground an ideal setting for travelers of all ages. For a forested oasis that feels like the luxury edition of summer camp, L’Auberge de Sedona offers families a restful retreat in cozy cottages (some of which have two bedrooms). If you like the idea of stylish rooms with killer views, make Sky Rock Inn of Sedona your family’s HQ. Fill up on delicious Mexican in an adorably low-key setting at Tamaliza Café, and get all the necessary carbs for hiking during breakfast at Creekside American Bistro.—M.B.


a yellow train is on the sidewalk: We challenge you to find a more family-welcoming place than Portugal.

I have never been to such a family-friendly place as Portugal. And it wasn’t just Lisbon or Porto that were accommodating—it was a universal welcome, from the airport queues just for families to our apartment rental (the Lisboans, with its extra-large rooms and breakfast delivered daily), our Uber drivers, and the waiter at a fancy restaurant who didn’t mind us arriving with a crying toddler in a stroller. Portugal even has dedicated parking spots for pregnant women. I highly recommend a week-long road trip from Porto to Lisbon, with an overnight in Obidos at Pestana Castelo do Obidos and a day trip to Sintra from Lisbon, to see Pena Palace. (Opt for the automatic car, so you don’t risk stalling out repeatedly on a steep cobbled hill in a medieval town like we did.) You can eat out almost everywhere with kids (even wine bars in Porto) and explore the centuries-old attractions (our toddler loved running around the courtyard and hallways of Lisbon’s Jeronimos Monastery). And you’ll never be at a loss for an amazing park, wherever you go. —L.D.R.

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