4 Budget Friendly Spring Break Destinations

Spring break is just that — a much needed break from school for students and teachers — but it’s also an opportunity for families to take a memorable vacation. Though you might think spring break means long lines, crowds and big travel budgets, there are great alternative spring break trips across the U.S. that are less traveled and less expensive. Check out these four spring break ideas for families on a budget.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

How to Get There:

Pick up your rental car at Knoxville Airport and drive about 42 miles southeast to cozy, charming Gatlinburg.

Why You Should Go:

Gatlinburg serves as the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Get closer to nature, and save money, by pitching a tent at one of many nearby campgrounds. Drive about 4 miles northeast from downtown to Camp LeConte, an outdoor resort with a variety of lodging choices, including traditional tent camping sites, safari tents, luxury treehouses and even replica 1961 Shasta Airflyte 16SC Travel Trailers for “glamping.” The park is still in its off-season from March to May, which means you can enjoy fewer crowds while on this budget-friendly break.

What to See and Do:

The town boasts a variety of family-friendly attractions, like the 407-foot Space Needle observation tower. From up top, take in the panoramic views overlooking downtown and the Smokies; free viewfinders are available for better inspection. Don’t miss the Ober Gatlinburg, an affordable amusement park where you can glide down the mountain on an alpine slide or coaster, or even play all day in an arcade.

Feeling nostalgic? Head to Cooter’s Place, a museum dedicated to the television show “Dukes of Hazzard,” operated by former Cooter actor Ben Jones. Check out the memorabilia before playing mini-golf or riding the go-karts on-site.

Road with Trees While driving through Gatlinburg and into the Smokies, take note of the national park’s many trees — a third of which are more than 100 years old.

 

Jensen Beach, Florida

How to Get There:

Known as the “Pineapple Capital of the World,” Jensen Beach is just a 48-mile trip up the Treasure Coast from West Palm Beach International Airport.

Why You Should Go:

In Jensen Beach, where millions of pineapples used to grow in the late 19th century, you’ll discover locals ready to welcome you with their hospitality and share their rich pineapple heritage, which appears as a common symbol in storefronts, homes and restaurants around town. Enjoy this piece of the Atlantic coastline’s stunning clear turquoise surf while staying at the affordable Vistana Beach Club. Steps from the sand, the hotel features a swimming pool, an oversized chess set and a pingpong room, plus barbecue grills and picnic areas for family meals.  To save a few additional dollars, families may also consider lodging at the Hampton Inn & Suites Stuart-North, which is less than a five-mile drive southwest of Jensen Beach and only a mile drive from the St. Lucia River.

What to See and Do:

Hit the sand of Jensen Sea Turtle Beach, named for the large number of sea turtles that nest here between March and November. Free parking is available at each of the beach’s three entry points. Pack lunch to enjoy at the nearby picnic pavilions. Afterward, dip your toes in the water or head to one of the beach’s volleyball courts for a game.

When you’ve had enough fun in the sun, stroll by the unique art galleries downtown, like the Backstreet Gallery full of fused glass art, as well as antique and gift shops, like Ain’t Miss Bee Haven. For boating and fishing fun, visit the Jensen Beach Causeway Park to take advantage of its fishing piers, public boat launch facilities and kayaking. Later, drive 2.5 miles south to explore the Children’s Museum of the Treasure Coast for interactive and hands-on exhibits like its 56-foot Spanish Galleon replica ship and Toddler Beach. Alternatively, take the NE Causeway to Hutchinson’s Island and discover the Florida Oceanographic Society, where you can learn more about Florida’s efforts to protect its coastal ecosystems.

Sea Turtle In addition to watching magnificent sea turtles begin to nest on its sands, Jensen Beach features lifeguards so swimmers and surfers can safely enjoy the ocean.

 

Mammoth Lakes, California

How to Get There:

Looking for an alternative getaway beyond the beaches and boardwalks? Enter picturesque Mammoth Lakes, a 166-mile drive south into the rugged Sierra Nevada from Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada.

Why You Should Go:

Whether you want to glide down powder on the mountain or relax in the lodge, Mammoth Lakes caters to varied vacation experiences. Stretch your budget by preparing meals in your own kitchen while renting a lake-view cabin at Tamarack Lodge, or stay at the secluded yet conveniently located Crystal Crag Lodge, a few minutes’ drive from the stores and restaurants in town. Bonus: At Mammoth Mountain, kids ages 4 and younger ski for free, and day care is available.

What to See and Do:

Skiing and snowboarding are the most popular activities here, but you can also explore the backcountry on a snowmobile or in a snowcat or shred on a sled at Woolly’s Tube Park. For an educational experience, drive to Eleven53 Interpretive Center, which offers incredible 360-degree views of the Eastern Sierra from 11,053 feet above sea level alongside informative displays about the area’s geology, wildlife, ecosystems and climate. When it’s time to retreat indoors, visit the popular Mammoth Fun Shop — part toy shop, part ice cream parlor — for a toy or a treat.

Parents may enjoy an afternoon unwinding at a day spa, like Mountain Sol Yoga & Holistic Healing, or a fitness facility, such as the Snowcreek Athletic Club. But in the evening, the whole family can gear up for a game at Mammoth Rock ’n’ Bowl, home to 12 bowling lanes, three golf simulators, darts, pingpong and foosball.

Ski Slopes Enjoy more than 3,500 skiable acres at Mammoth Mountain this spring break

 

Virginia Beach, Virginia

How to Get There:

Tucked away in the southeastern part of the state, the vibrant coastal community of Virginia Beach, also known as Neptune City, is a 20-mile drive east from Norfolk International Airport.

Why You Should Go:

This unique coastal habitat is home to miles of beach ripe for exploring and relaxing, as well as the country’s largest naval base. Head straight to the Virginia Beach Boardwalk for family-friendly accommodations like Barclay Towers Resort Hotel. Savor the ocean views (and the hotel’s free daily continental breakfasts) and take advantage of the full in-room kitchens to cut down on dining-out expenses.

What to See and Do:

With more than 200 city parks, it’s easy to soak in the region’s splendor. Check out First Landing State Park, named for the point of entry for the first settlers of Virginia in 1607, and explore this endangered maritime forest habitat by foot, bike, kayak or paddleboard.

Drive a few miles south along Atlantic Avenue to the boardwalk, where you can park in a garage or in metered street spots. Rent a surrey bike, which features four wheels and can fit entire families, and pedal along the boardwalk while enjoying the view. Snap a photo at the 34-foot-tall bronze sculpture of the mythical god Neptune. Constructed by Virginia-based artist Paul DiPasquale and dedicated at the city’s 2005 Neptune Festival, the statue is one of Virginia Beach’s most iconic sights.

Round out the rest of your adventure by discovering World War I and II aircraft at the Military Aviation Museum (kids 5 and younger get in free), or spy thousands of creatures in 800,000 gallons of water exhibits at Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center. Finish with an exciting and free afternoon at Mount Trashmore Skate Park. This 24,000-square-foot space features a two-level half-pipe and a variety of rails and grinds, where you can watch boarders catch air and perform their best tricks.

King Neptune statue Stop by Virginia Beach’s impressive King Neptune statue for a family photo with this God of the Sea.
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About the Author

Cynthia Beisiegel is a writer and editor based in Fort Worth, Texas. A New York native, she has lived across the United States, spending time in Florida, California and Hawaii. Her love for travel has also led her to five of the world’s seven continents, and she continues to explore new destinations and old favorites time and time again. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @lalabicicleta.