Typically once spring rolls around, most of us are experiencing cabin fever. Well, that squirely feeling of being pent up indoors is likely elevated this year due to the ever-changing restrictions associated with the pandemic.
While air travel is still uncertain at this time, one thing you can do is pack your bags and take a good old-fashioned spring break road trip. Whether you opt for a car or go all out with an RV (check out our prep guide!), it’s time to get out of the house, breathe in some fresh air, and soak up all that gorgeous spring scenery in the good ‘ole USA — talk about the perfect road trip.
Ahead, some of the best trips to take in the US.
Northeast: Bar Harbor, Maine
Ready for leisurely waterside strolls along the rugged coastline and some of the most beautiful nature and thriving wildlife in the northeast? Bar Harbor, Maine, is the entryway into Acadia National Park, one of America’s most visited parks. Spring is one of the best times of the year to visit this charming New England town, so get ready to strap on that lobster bib.
What to Do:
- Hike, climb, bird watch, cycle, picnic, fish, boat, and swim at Acadia National Park.
- Take a food tour.
- Explore remote parks of Acadia on a kayak.
- Embark on a puffin and lighthouse cruise.
- Go on a whale-watching expedition.
- Get cultured at the Woodland Museum Gardens and Park.
- Stroll through the town and visit the quaint shops.
Where to Stay:
From grand estates to quaint boutique hotels and New England-style inns, Bar Harbor has a variety of accommodations — and they tend to be less expensive in the spring, too.
- Located right in the center of the village in the midst of all of the action, the Ivy Manor Inn is a perfect home base while visiting Bar Harbor. Originally built as an English Tudor-style home in 1939, the residence was converted into an inn in 1996. While it still boasts the charm and elegance of a bygone era, you’ll find all the modern-day amenities you need to have a comfortable and memorable stay.
- The Yellow House Bed and Breakfast is one of Bar Harbor’s original summer cottages dating back to the late 1800s. Today, it serves as a peaceful oasis in the heart of town — how does taking your breakfast on the sprawling wrap-around porch sound? There are only seven cozy yet well-appointed rooms available, so be sure to book well enough in advance.
Where to Eat:
Bar Harbor, Maine, is well known for its food scene, hence the reason why we suggested the tour as mentioned earlier. While you’ll find cuisines to suit all tastes, due to its coastal location, the seafood (especially the lobster) is where it’s at.
- Stewman’s Lobster Pound has two locations, both of which offer sweeping waterfront views. As the name suggests, lobster (including the rolls) is one of the main draws, but there are plenty of other options such as crisp battered fresh catch (from filets to clams to shrimp) and housemade clam chowder. There are also several non-seafood options, including sandwiches, salads, and burgers.
- Suppose you’re looking for a no-frills establishment that is known for serving up some of the best lobster (and clams and mussels) in town without as hefty of a price tag, head on over to Rose Eden Restaurant. Aside from a few scattered tables outside, this eatery is essentially a takeaway lobster shack, so why not make it an oceanside picnic experience? You can work off all that butter by taking a stroll along the Ocean Trail afterward.
Southwest: White Sands National Park, New Mexico
The Grand Canyon will always be there, so why not feast your eyes on a different natural wonder in the Southwest? The glistening sand dunes at White Sands National Park will take your breath away for another reason — if it weren’t for the mild temps, you could almost believe you’re in the arctic. The undulating dunes are spread over 275-square miles over the desert (the largest of its kind in the world), just north of the Mexico border. While there’s little vegetation, it’s still one of the most enchanting places to visit in the Southwest — especially if you’re lucky enough to catch a sunrise or sunset.
What to Do:
- Cruise Dunes Drive.
- Take a scenic hike on one of five established trails.
- Embark on a native plant tour.
- Go “sledding” down the dunes.
- Take a ranger-guided sunset stroll.
- Hit the dunes for a full moon hike.
- Learn how the dunes were formed with a Lake Lucero tour.
Where to Stay:
Don’t expect posh accommodations at White Sands National Park — but the area does make for one of the best spring RV trips (though note that WSNP doesn’t offer RV facilities.) Alternatively, there are some camping grounds and casual hotels near the park.
- Outdoor adventure enthusiasts will appreciate White Sands’ backcountry camping grounds, where you’re literally sleeping among the glistening gypsum dunes under a star-studded night sky.
- If roughing it isn’t your thing, head 13 miles to Alamogordo, where you’ll find The Lodge Resort and Spa. Here, you’ll find comfortable rooms and suites appointed with antique furnishings, golf, a full-service spa, and a restaurant that serves three meals a day. Fun fact: Throughout the years, this historic property has hosted countless entertainers, artists, politicians, and business moguls, such as Pancho Villa, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Gilbert Roland.
Where to Eat:
As with lodging, you’re going to have to venture outside of the park’s grounds to find more dining options — but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a little creative.
- Breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a view? You can’t beat the semi-covered picnic tables on the dunes (each complete with an elevated grill) for a casual yet memorable meal. You’ll find grocery stores in the nearby town of Alamogordo, but the park has a small shop that offers sandwiches, snacks, and beverages.
- When it comes to food, perhaps nothing is more all-American than barbecue, and Can’t Stop Smokin’ BBQ can’t keep visitors and locals away. It’s no-frills, but the ambiance isn’t the draw. Instead, folks go for the “giant” sandwich with your choice of smoked meat, the mountain picnic for four, or the best-selling baby back ribs.
West: Big Sur, California
When it comes to spring road trip ideas in the West, one can’t avoid mentioning Big Sur, California. This stunning, rugged stretch of California coastline is nestled between Carmel and San Simeon and flanked by the Santa Lucia Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. To get there, you’ll cruise scenic State Route 1 before enjoying beachcombing, hiking, wildlife watching, and more.
What to Do:
- Take a selfie by the iconic Keyhole Rock on Pfeiffer Beach.
- Explore one of the hiking paths at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, where you'll experience elevated landscapes next to the ocean, falls, and a deep canyon studded with coastal redwoods.
- Snap a photo on top of Bixby Bridge, an iconic architectural wonder dating back to 1932.
- Head to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a world-renowned scuba diving destination with numerous hiking trails for prime wildlife viewing.
- Get lost amongst the redwood groves, waterfalls, and sweeping coastal views at Limekiln State Park.
- Check out the shelves of books, live performances, and rotating artwork at the non-profit Henry Miller Library.
- Find the secluded beach at Andrew Molera, the largest state park in Big Sur.
- Head to the turn-of-the-century Point Sur Lighthouse at sunset.
Where to Stay:
- Perched on top of a 300-foot cliff, Ragged Point Inn and Resort offers cliff-side rooms and deluxe cliff-top rooms, meaning you’ll take in unobstructed views of Big Sur. Garden view rooms are available for those on a budget. There’s a gourmet restaurant on-site serving up seasonal California cuisine, fine regional wines, and sweeping views of the Pacific — book a table that coincides with the sunset. For those who want to spend less time dining and more time exploring, there’s also a wine bar, espresso bar, and sandwich stand on offer.
- Big Sur Lodge imparts a more rustic, family (and pet) friendly atmosphere. There are 62 cozy cottage-style guest accommodations with various layouts, including family rooms that sleep up to four and more robust cottages with kitchenettes and/or fireplaces and an outdoor deck to take in nature. A word of warning: Due to the remote location, Wi-Fi is somewhat unreliable — but at least that’s an excellent excuse to take a dip in the pool while reconnecting with nature.
Where to Eat:
Thanks to the landscape, there are several organic, farm to table restaurants and iconic classics to choose from along Highway 1 to suit all budgets and tastes.
- Serving hungry and thirsty patrons since 1949, it’s safe to safe Nepenthe is a Big Sur institution — Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton filmed scenes from the film “The Sandpiper” here in 1969. Still, there have been plenty of other glitterati that have walked through its doors over the years. The lunch menu is basic, so head there for dinner instead. Don’t miss signature dishes such as the restaurant’s roast chicken with sage stuffing and cranberries, the famous ambrosia burger (their version of a steak sandwich with ambrosia sauce), or the olive oil and herb marinated goat cheese starter. You’ll also find the more casual Café Kevah that provides equally fantastic views of the Big Sur coast at the same address.
- The fact that Deetjen’s (located within Deetjen’s Big Sur Inn, another fantastic accommodation option) is on the US national register of historic places (circa 1939) is reason enough to check it out. However, the menu made up of dishes made with locally sourced organic products will keep you coming back for more. The spicy seafood saffron paella smoked bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin and homemade soup of the moment are a few standout favorites.
Southeast: Hilton Head, South Carolina
Thanks to its world-renowned beaches, commanding pine forests, and scenic seascapes, it’s no surprise that Hilton Head is one of the most popular spring break spots in the US — it attracts approximately 2.5 million annual visitors a year. However, springtime is optimal because you beat the crowds — and the humid temps.
What to Do:
- Spend the day on the waterwith a dolphin or beachcombing cruise, family ski day, an outback kayak adventure, a wildlife refuge excursion, or even rent your own boat for the day.
- The RBC Heritage, South Carolina’s only PGA Tour event, played at the world-renowned Harbour Town Golf Links in the Sea Pines Resorteach year.
- Relax amongst the 12-mile coastline of beaches — known as some of the best in the States.
- Discover the art scene by visiting some of the best museums and galleries in South Carolina.
- Explore the wildlife from an aerial view with a zipline canopy tour.
- Browse the boutiques and take home a little Lowcountry with you.
- From pirates to fishing, take a local tour.
Where to Stay:
For the most part, Hilton Head offers some pretty posh accommodations, but you’ll still be able to find more modest yet comfortable places to rest your head at night if you so choose.
- If comfort is your goal and money is no object, the Montage Palmetto Bluffwon’t disappoint. There are various rooms, suites, and cottages to choose from — even rental homes for starters. Hungry? Choose from one of seven dining options, not including in-room if your robe sounds better than a dress or suit. Take time for yourself at the spa after a full day visiting the sites.
- For a more low-key pet- and family-friendly location, the Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort is an excellent choice. Whether you need a home, a villa, rest assured your self-serving accommodations are equipped with everything you need. Don’t feel like cooking? No problem; there are also three dining options on-site, from a casual barbecue, pizza, and sandwich establishment to an upscale seafood restaurant for a special dinner. The best part is that you’re within walking distance of all of the best activities the area has to offer.
Where to Eat:
- Love oysters and a flute of Champagne to go along with your slurp session? Us, too. Head to the Old Oyster Factory, a waterfront staple in Hilton Head’s culinary scene. Fun fact: the restaurant was built on the site of an original oyster cannery; from 1925 until the ‘90s, the nearby wetlands and creeks were the ultimate playground for harvesting oysters. Today, you’ll find a full-fledged seafood menu composed of every type of seafood delicacy you could think of — oysters included, of course.
- Not a seafood fan? No problem. The Smokehouse, an award-winning restaurant known for its out-of-this-world barbecue. House specialties include smokehouse ribs, Texas brisket platter, smoked half chicken, and chicken and ribs. Carnivores rejoice!
Midwest: Galena, Illinois
The Midwest, including Illinois, is well, typically rather flat. That is one of the many reasons why the Galena Territory is so interesting — you’ll find rolling hills on top of stepping back into the days when Ulysses S. Grant resided in this historic early-age mining town. Today, you’ll still find many of the same timeless bones, but with a modern-day touch.
What to Do:
- See Galena’s oldest residence, the Dowling House, built of native limestone in 1826 as a trading post and residence.
- Stroll Main Street from the 1800s, now home to approximately 125 unique shops and restaurants.
- Visit the historic home of the United States 18th president, Ulysses S. Grant. On Aug. 18, 1865, Galena celebrated the return of its Civil War hero Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and he was gifted a residence.
- Take part in a stargazing experience.
- Head to Chestnut Mountain Resort for ziplining, a Mississippi Riverboat cruise, kayaking, and more.
- Go on a trek with goats— yes, you read that right!
- Love golfing? Galena has 11 different courses to choose from.
Where to Stay:
While charming B&Bs outweigh more modern-day flashy resorts (you are in a historic town, after all), trust us when we say you’ll have everything you need no matter where you wind up.
- We can’t talk about historic accommodations without mentioning the Desoto House, the oldest operating hotel in the state of Illinois. You’ll find 55 Victorian-style guest rooms, three on-site restaurants, and, if you wish, a self-guided walking tour to soak up the building’s history. The house was originally an epicenter for Galena’s social and political activities — even Abraham Lincoln made a speech from its Main Street balcony back in 1856. Of course, Grant made his mark here, too. Which of the significant 55 rooms will you check into?
- If you’re looking for a place that’s more on the modern side (but don’t dismiss the abundance of old-school spots), there’s Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa, just a few miles outside of downtown Galena. Here, you’ll find a wide array of main lodge rooms and self-catering villas — on-site but separated from the lodge. Also, there’s a sprawling golf course, a full-service spa, and a restaurant touted as having one of the best scenic dining views in the Galena Territory.
Where to Eat:
- There’s typically a wait to get into Vinny Vanucchi’s, which is located right on Main Street in the center of town. This steadfast cozy eatery sets the scene for everything from a romantic dinner for two to a full-fledged family meal. You’d never guess that you could find such delicious made from scratch Italian cuisine in a historic old town like Galena — you can seriously smell the place from down the street. Don’t miss the zesty bruschetta as a starter or Auntie Gracie’s sausage ragu as a main. You honestly can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Carbs be damned!
- We can’t talk about dining in Galena without mentioning the historic Log Cabin steakhouse, also located on the main drag. The restaurant/bar also features a few Greek items (the family who has been running the establishment is of Greek origin) such as saganaki (opa!) and lemon garlic chicken. Still, you’ll also find a variety of substantially-sized steaks and chops. Oh, and there’s also a relish tray as a starter; talk about old-school cool. Bring on the pimento cheese spread.
A Word of Safety
Before you embark on your spring road trip, make sure you do your due diligence and check to see what’s open and what’s not due to COVID-19. While we all can’t wait for the day for travel to get back to normal, the health and safety of you, your friends, and your family should always be a top priority.
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