Spring break as a parent has an entirely different meaning than it did back in college. While the latter was likely filled with booze-fueled parties, the former keeps things G-rated with kid-friendly activities. Luckily, there are plenty of excellent spring break destinations for families with kids in tow. Whether you have a little one in elementary school, a teen in high school, or a mix of ages in your growing brood, there's a great, family-friendly spring break spot for you.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is serious about its family-friendly spring break options, and its Kids Free Spring Break initiative proves it. Families visiting this southwestern city between March 1 and April 21 can cash in on tons of discounts, freebies, and fun. Not only do kids stay free at select hotels, but they also receive free activity passes, free meals off the kids' menu, and fun hotel packages designed with youngsters in mind. Kids can learn to skateboard, go on a four-by-four canyon adventure, or spend the afternoon indoor rock-climbing -- all for free. It doesn't stop there, every Wednesday from Mach 7 to April 4, kids get free lift tickets from Ski Santa Fe. Other fun discounted or free adventures include learning about the history of chocolate and making chocolate bars at The Art of Chocolate, getting close to rescued animals at the Wildlife West Nature Park, and enjoying free admission to museums. A few important things to note, though: At least one adult ticket purchase is required to get the free kid's ticket, and most deals only apply to kids 12 and under.
Where to Stay: While a handful of hotels have perks and discounts for Kids Free Spring Break, La Fonda on the Plaza goes a step further and extends their deals to anyone with children under 17. Families score free breakfast for two adults and two kids, four free tickets to Meow Wolf - House of Eternal Return, and a family pass to The Harrell House Bug Museum. They also offer a fun scavenger hunt around the hotel for kids, and boast no hidden resort fees.
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Our nation's capital is a gold mine when it comes to culture, history, and activities for families. If you time your visit right, you can soak in Washington, D.C.'s gorgeous display of fleeting cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin. The National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20 to April13) is one of the largest cherry blossom celebrations in the country and hosts several free, family-friendly activities, like the Blossom Kite Festival, the pink firework display of Petalpalooza at the Wharf, and the lively parade. If you find yourself in town outside of the festival, there is still plenty to do in D.C., from exploring Old Town and walking the riverfront to taking a cruise down the Potomac and visiting a few national monuments. Washington, D.C., is also home to some seriously stunning museums. Younger kids can join scavenger hunts and interactive gardening activities at the U.S. Botanic Garden, play in a mock-up of Julia Child's kitchen at the National Museum of American History, or immerse themselves in Native American history at the imagiNations Activity Center over at the National Museum of the American Indian. The National Museum of Natural History is a great spot for families with kids of varying ages, thanks to its butterfly pavilion, tarantula feedings, and interactive science experiments for children in middle school and high school.
Where to Stay: A five-minute walk to the White House and within five blocks of three metro lines, Washington Plaza Hotel is perfectly positioned for families wanting to tour the capital's top attractions. Plus, there's a terrific outdoor pool deck for summer months, a reasonably priced restaurant with a kids' menu, and spacious (and, in many cases, newly renovated) rooms.
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Sunny weather, Mickey Mouse, and Harry Potter make Orlando a natural beacon for families over spring break. However, even beyond the theme parks, this Floridian city is packed with practically limitless activities to fill an itinerary. Make sure to carve out some time to explore Orlando's nature trail system, have a picnic, catch a free concert at the Lake Eola Park, and build up your creativity at the LEGO Imagination Center. Themed dinner theaters, the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, and NASA's Kennedy Space Center are also good options. Looking for an adult-friendly activity that the kids can also partake in? The Lakeridge Winery Wine & Seafood Festival (March 22 to 24) features live music, outdoor arts and crafts, free wine tours and tastings, and loads of beer, wine, and seafood samples -- plus kids 12 and under get in free.
Where to Stay: From the gazelles and giraffes freely roaming the grounds to the enormous pool with a waterslide, Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge was designed to delight children. Throughout the day, staff members lead free educational activities, including craft-making, African drumming, and short lessons on where giraffes come from. Kid or grown-up, being surrounded by the wildlife here is truly magical.
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San Antonio, Texas
Orlando isn't the only U.S. destination with theme parks. San Antonio is home to Six Flags, SeaWorld, Aquatica water park, and Morgan's Wonderland, plus family-friendly activities for all ages, warm weather, and delicious Tex-Mex. In between taco sprints, check out the San Antonio Zoo, cruise the River Walk, and soak up some history at the Alamo. Additionally, the San Antonio Museum of Art and McNay Art Museum will host art activities this spring, including live music, craft stations, games, yoga, and more. There are also many interactive things to see and do at The DoSeum, San Antonio's museum for kids. If you've got older kids, spend a day at the Natural Bridge Caverns, 30 minutes north of the city. Here, you can explore the limestone caves via zip line or through a canopy ropes course.
Where to Stay: The Embassy Suites San Antonio Riverwalk has a prime downtown location, close to several restaurants and major attractions, and directly on the famous River Walk. Popular with families, the property offers a free made-to-order breakfast, two 32-inch flat-screen TVs in every room, and a heated rooftop pool and Jacuzzi. The two-room suites are modern and spacious, and have separate living/dining rooms, microwaves, mini-fridges, and coffeemakers with free coffee and tea.
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South Walton, Florida
If you're craving sun and sand, skip Miami and head to the South Walton beaches in the Florida Panhandle. A 26-mile stretch of white sand and diverse ecosystems await families looking for a sleepy, eco-minded spring break destination surrounded by nature and art. Instead of the hubbub found in bigger cities, visitors to South Walton can expect 16 breezy beach communities, a collection of over 20 artist studios and galleries, southern food with a fresh seafood twist, and access to 15 coastal sand dune lakes. Naturally formed over thousands of years, examples of this rare geographic feature can only be found in New Zealand, Madagascar, the northwest U.S., Australia, and South Walton. Grab a pair of bird-watching binoculars, hop in a kayak, or bring your fishing pole to experience the different sand dune lakes. Other spring break activities include farmer's markets, shrimp boils, family movie nights, and a weekly ranger program through the Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.
Where to Stay: The Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Miramar Beach is a pretty, sprawling property with 1,600 rooms. It's organized like a little town that can be broken down into four resorts and 30 separate neighborhoods -- each with a different decor and price range, but all feature attractive rooms with upscale decor. In addition to a village and market full of shops, restaurants, and entertainment, this resort is brimming with recreational activities that bring Sandestin to the top of our kid-friendly list: 15 tennis courts, 19 pools, a kids' club, four golf courses, and over seven miles of beachfront.
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Can't whittle down your choices to just one spot? Book a cruise and spend your spring break sailing through several ports. This is a great option for multi-generational trips or families who have kids across varying age groups. Cruise ships do a great job of offering a little something for everyone in the family, and are set up for a good mix of quality time and personal space. Many also have kids' club activities (essential for older kids and parents who want a little break).
Not sure which ship to sail? We've got you covered with this list of the best cruise lines for families. Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas has excellent active options for kids, like waterslides, surf simulators, laser tag, zip lines, and theaters. Disney is another top choice, but unfortunately, rates can be budget-busters. For an easy, affordable option look into Carnival sailings, though you'll want to stick to a more kid-friendly ship, like Vista, versus some of their other vessels, which can have a more debaucherous spring break vibe.
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