By Kristy Tolley
Let’s be honest. If there’s ever been a time we’ve most needed to get away, it’s now. After months of working and schooling at home with limited opportunities to get out, we’re all probably ready for a change of scenery. Also, last year’s spring break plans were likely cancelled due to COVID-19, making a spring break this year even more essential. Whether yours is a family of beach bums or you prefer chasing waterfalls in the woods, there’s a bevy of ways to enjoy wide open spaces. Here are five to consider:
Virginia Beach, VA
Situated where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach is a popular family-friendly destination. Spend your days along the thriving oceanfront area — a hub of hotels, restaurants and shopping opportunities. Walk or bike along the boardwalk, which stretches some 40 city blocks. Local diversions include the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, Atlantic Fun Park and water sports activities at Rudee Inlet. Just south of the Oceanfront District, Sandbridge is a good bet if you crave a quieter escape. Fewer crowds and a wide beach offer plenty of space to spread out. Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge and False Cape State Park provide an ideal backdrop for kayaking and hiking. Further afield, other diversions include Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens — within an hour’s drive.
Conveniently located just off the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, Hilton Virginia Beach Oceanfront boasts perhaps the best pool view in the area. Located on the roof of this 21-story hotel, the infinity pool overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. Other family-centric amenities include a beach playground, cribs, a five-mile bike trail and beach activities (among others). The Historic Cavalier Hotel & Beach Club, a AAA Four Diamond-rated historic gem, was the “go to” resort for presidents, celebrities and iconic authors following its opening in 1927. After facing demolition in 2012, it reopened in 2018 as a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Families will enjoy the renovated Beach Club, which offers semi-private beach access, a poolside bar and grill and an infinity pool that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean.
Part of North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, or Crystal Coast, Beaufort is the third oldest town in the state. Small town charm, outdoor activities and varied dining make it a great spring break escape. Hungry Town Bike Tours provides a fun introduction to the area. The company’s guided bike tour highlight historic homes, oceanfront diversions and a burial ground that holds legendary tales. (AAA Members receive 10 percent off their Hidden Beaufort and Historic Beaufort Walking tours.) Boat over to Cape Lookout National Seashore, a 56-mile-long stretch of undeveloped beach complete with the distinctive Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Take a ferry to Shackleford Banks to spy the storied wild horses or enjoy a dolphin watch tour with Lookout Cruises, which leaves from the downtown marina. Take in the diverse wildlife found within the Rachel Carson Reserve, including more than 200 species of birds, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles and a small herd of wild horses who make their home here. Nearby in Atlantic Beach, Fort Macon State Park welcomes more than a million visitors each year. On offer are guided tours of the fort, museum exhibits and nature trails. Restored quarters provide a glimpse into the lives of the soldiers who spent time there. After your tour, head across the parking lot for a day at the beach.
Located on the site of one of the town’s former menhaden fish plants, Beaufort Hotel is a far cry from the original rugged structure that served Beaufort’s fishing industry for so many years. The 133-room property faces south, providing guests with perfect sunrise and sunset views. Waterfront rooms also look out over the Rachel Carson Reserve. Sip your morning coffee and spy wild horses across the water. Savor a meal at their onsite restaurant 34° North Restaurant, where the menu is only rivaled by the views. (AAA Members receive 10 percent off their stay.) For families seeking more privacy, consider renting a home. Nautical Getaway is a spacious waterfront property on the sound. It accommodates up to six guests and includes amenities like a private dock, hot tub, free Wi-Fi and a washing machine. It’s also convenient to downtown Beaufort, as well as Atlantic Beach.
Oconee County, SC
With more than 90,000 acres of protected forests, primitive lakes fringed by the Blue Ridge Mountains and 29 waterfalls, Oconee County is a prime spot for families who love exploring the great outdoors. Kayak, canoe or scuba (in some parts) Lake Jocassee. Or just chill out along the shoreline of this 7,500-acre lake. You can access the lake by way of Devils Fork State Park, which offers kayak and boat rentals, two campgrounds and ample hiking opportunities. Sumter National Forest is also located within Oconee, as well as four additional state parks and several county parks. Enjoy family time on the Chattooga or Chauga rivers with an exhilarating rafting trip. Other diversions of note include golfing, horseback riding, antiquing and others.
Best Western Seneca-Clemson is an ideal home base for your Oconee County adventures. Your stay includes complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi, an onsite restaurant and a pool. There are also a slew of lodges, campgrounds, cabins and vacation rentals to suit your family’s size and style.
Golden Isles, GA
Comprised of the city of Brunswick, Sea Island, St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island and Little St. Simons Island, the Golden Isles is a treasure trove of family-friendly activities. A variety of outdoor activities, historic sites and other attractions beckon visitors. A small colonial site, Fort Frederica National Monument is home to archaeological remnants of Fort Frederica and the town of Frederica. The fort was constructed in 1736 by James Oglethorpe to protect the southern portion of Georgia from Spain. Golden Isles boasts a variety of ways to soak in nature. Search for dolphin, alligators, many species of birds and other wildlife during a guided kayak or boat tour. Don’t miss the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, located on Jekyll Island. It’s the first sea turtle rehabilitation, education and research facility in the state. Take a Hawk Walk with Sea Island’s falconry team and learn about the ancient art of falconry. Trolley tours on St. Simons Island showcase historic landmarks and local attractions that are the center of the stories and legends of the area. Elevate your Instagram feed with some sunrise and sunset shots along Driftwood Beach, where the gnarled trees have created an other-worldly landscape.
Perfect for families, AAA Five Diamond-rated The Cloister Beach Club boasts a private beach, water sports, three swimming pools and many other activities. If you want to spread out, consider a suite, which includes compact open kitchens, coffee makers, soaker tubs and separate living and dining areas. For a more casual stay, book a room at The Inn at Sea Island. The cottage style rooms are comfortable and well appointed. For a fee, guests can have access to Sea Island’s golf courses, the spa and restaurants.
Just south of Tampa, Sarasota was once the winter home of the Ringling Bros. Circus. As you might imagine, links to the famous entertainer are found throughout the city. The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art houses more than 28,000 works of classical and modern art, as well as ancient artifacts from Cyprus. Admission is free on Mondays. Make time to tour Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, the winter home of John and Mable Ringling. Situated on the waterfront, the five-story 36,000-square-foot mansion was completed in 1926. Time on the beach is always well spent, and Sarasota has plenty of white sand from which to choose. The beach at Siesta Key received a “best beach” nod by Dr. Beach twice and earned the 2020 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards “Best in the U.S.” designation. Year-round lifeguard duty, beach rentals, a concession stand and public beach access make it a great choice for families. Fewer crowds make Lido Beach a lure, too. You’ll also find lifeguards, restrooms and a snack bar. Other beaches worth considering — Manasota, Caspersen and Nokomis. Seek out pink flamingos, parrots, crocodiles and alligators at the 10-acre Sarasota Jungle Gardens.
Voted as one of the top 30 resorts in Florida last year by Condé Nast Traveler readers, The Resort at Longboat Key Club has earned the AAA Four Diamond distinction for the past 38 years. The resort underwent a renovation in 2020 resulting in revamped rooms and suites, an upgraded pool area and enhanced culinary offerings. Almost limitless activities abound here — golf, water sports, yoga, tennis and fitness classes. Of course, chilling out by the pool or on the beach is always an option. Convenient to Lido Beach, The Ringling Museum of Art and other attractions, Hotel Indigo Sarasota offers spacious and smartly appointed rooms with colorful wall murals and hardwood floors. It also earned AAA’s Inspector’s Best of Housekeeping award. Free Wi-Fi, two small outdoor pools, a fitness center, bike rentals and shuttle service to Lido Beach are other perks you can expect during your stay.
Many states require face masks in indoor public spaces and adhere to enhanced health and safety measure. For more information about how AAA and partners are taking steps to ensure guests’ safety and security, read “Traveling With Confidence.”
BOOK NOW: It’s never too early to secure your spring break vacation. Call your AAA Travel Agent at 800-374-2865 to plan your trip.