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11 Incredible Spring Break Destinations / By Lonely Planet / Travel Exclusive News

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11 Incredible Spring Break Destinations / By Lonely Planet / Travel Exclusive News

Paddle boarding (SUP) off the island of Espiritu Santo, a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in the Gulf of California, Mexico.

Spend your spring break stand-up paddling off the island of Espiritu Santo, a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in the Gulf of California, Mexico © Justin Foulkes / Lonely Planet
Finally, spring is on its way. And after months of gray days and long nights, it’s about time. But where to go? Shake off those memories of winter and last bits of snow with one of our spring getaways.

We picked our top spring break destinations – with a couple of surprises thrown in – that are accessible from major North American airports and are sure to change the color of those winter blues. Thaw out in the Caribbean or sunbathe among the stars in LA. If something off-beat is more your style, we have some beer-bong-optional picks as well. Spring is the perfect time to night-kayak through a bioluminescent bay in Puerto Rico, practice your sea lion roar in Baja California or get hopped-up in Asheville.

Two young girls in bright swimsuits lead from an outrigger into a blue bay.
Explore the Big Island for spring break © Tec Petaja / Lonely Planet
Hawai’i

With year-round temperatures that hover between 70°F and 80°F (21°C and 27°C), there’s never a bad time to head to the Big Island. But March marks the end of the high season, and budget travelers can usually find discounts on the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Trek into the snow-capped peaks, wander through a verdant Kona coffee farm and watch the the island get bigger at one of the longest-running volcanic eruptions anywhere in the world.

10 top experiences on Hawai‘i’s Big Island

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Nicaragua probably isn’t quite on your spring break destination radar, but the laid-back atmosphere at San Juan del Sur, the country’s premier surfing hub, will cast away 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. If you’re really ready to throw down, join the Sunday Funday party, a legendary “pool crawl” hosted by local hostels that has a reputation for getting wild.

Central America’s most thrilling volcano adventures

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A skier descending a mountain near Whistler, BC. Image by Alan V. Young / Moment / Getty
A skier descending a mountain near Whistler, BC © Alan V. Young / Moment / Getty
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, clear skies and a good snowpack make a spring in Whistler the perfect choice for skiers and snowboarders. For 360 degree views of this alpine Arcadia, take a ride in the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, a 4.4km feat of engineering that connects the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. At lower elevations, hike through conifer forests to spot the area’s black bears as they emerge from hibernation.

How to choose a Rocky Mountaineer train experience

A young woman having fun skateboarding on the Venice Beach boardwalk.
Explore Los Angeles for a spring break trip © Layland Masuda / Getty Images
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/partying as they do the chance to laze and sunbathe.

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.

Best beaches in Los Angeles

Man and woman on balcony enjoying lunch, elevated view of Rio de Janeiro.
on balcony enjoying lunch, elevated view of Rio de Janeiro. © Johnny Greig/Getty Images
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 await to 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, and then hit the bar scene in Botafogo or party to the sounds of samba in the clubs of Lapa by night.

The best national parks in Brazil: jungles, jaguars and jaw-dropping waterfalls

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.

The ultimate Baja California road trip guide

A light sunset shines over a dune-covered beach.
Relax on a beach in Tampa Bay, Florida ©Clayton Townsend/Shutterstock
Tampa Bay, Florida

Florida basically invented the concept of spring break, but hotspots like Miami and the ultimate spring break capital, Panama City Beach, typically snare the spotlight. This is a shame because there are plenty of gems to discover in the state’s often overlooked Southwest region. We recommend Tampa Bay, with its 35-plus miles of dune-dotted, pristine white beaches that promise traditional sun-and-sand relaxation.

Fort DeSoto Park, with 7 miles of sand and excellent trails and wildlife-spotting opportunities, is a standout. Meanwhile, Tampa and St. Petersburg beckon with seafood-rich, creative dining options, innovative craft brewers like bike-themed Cycle Brewing and surprising cultural offerings like St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum.

Why your next road trip should be in Florida, plus where to go

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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 brilliant arc of sand or dive in at Playa Carlos Rosario, one of Puerto Rico’s best snorkeling sites.

Vieques is a bit larger at 21 miles in length, 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”). But 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: the water glitters bright blue in the darkness.

San Juan’s hottest bars for cool cocktails and tropical nights

A bull elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Jim McKinley / Moment Open / Getty
A bull elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Jim McKinley / Moment Open / Getty
Asheville, North Carolina

Southern charm, a thriving foodie scene and plenty of options for outdoor adventures – Asheville is the perfect spring break destination for travelers looking to compile a vacation itinerary that goes beyond the beach. This small city in the Appalachian foothills is a haven for beer-lovers, with more craft breweries per capita than any other city in the US. The food scene ranges from Southern classics like Tupelo Honey to authentic Spanish tapas at local favorite Cúrate.

America’s largest home, The Biltmore, also awaits nearby, with 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. And the peaceful French Broad river offers opportunities for kayaking and stand-up paddling.

The best mountain lakes and beaches in Asheville, North Carolina

Young man hiking outdoors on a trail in a desert scene.
Phoenix, Arizona provides incredible access to the outdoors © MarkSkalny / Getty Images/iStockphoto
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 fringes 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 admiring the array of succulents, cacti and other native plants at the Desert Botanical Garden. Grab brunch on Windsor’s retro lanai before driving out to Chandler (just south of Tempe) to sample craft beers amidst 50 rescued, rainbow-hued tropical birds at The Perch Brewery. Or head downtown to 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 Phoenix’s equally 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.

The ultimate guide to a weekend in Phoenix, Arizona

A sea turtle in a lagoon near the Galápagos © Paul Kennedy / Lonely Planet Images / Getty
A sea turtle in a lagoon near the Galápagos © Paul Kennedy / Lonely Planet Images / Getty
The Galapagos 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 most rare and 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 for interaction with them. There are cruises, ecolodges and plenty of feel-good ways to get involved with conservation and social development initiatives around the islands.
Programs like IOI Galapagos offer opportunities to earn class credits through university partnerships while giving back to the community. 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 most outstanding marine sites of the Galápagos.

The trip that changed my life: The Galapagos Islands

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This article was first published on March 1, 2017 and updated on February 1, 2022
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