Spring break is just around the corner! Those of you who haven’t made plans might start to feel regret as your friends jet off to their fabulous vacations — and document the journey on social media. Is it too late for you to save spring break? Believe it or not, the answer is NO!
Many urban destinations are hubs of family fun, and they still have availability. Depending on where you live, these places are easy to get to, making them perfect for a budget-friendly short getaway. All you need is a little spontaneity and flexibility. The key to planning a last-minute trip is to be loose with your dates and expectations, because you won’t have the selection you would have had if you booked a few months ago. So you might not get the exact hotel or room location you prefer. Also, flights might have more layovers and are generally pricier at the last minute, which is why a lot of families opt for a road trip when making late plans.
Keep in mind that if you have young children and are not tied to school schedules, waiting until April is a good bet. You’ll find that prices drop around that time, and availability improves drastically. But if you really want to hit the road now, the following five cities are great options for last-minute spring break getaways. They are full of family fun, and you’ll likely still find availability (particularly during the week). If you simply can’t bear the thought of living vicariously through your friends in the coming weeks, pick one of these vacation spots and hit the road!
Asheville, North Carolina
Asheville is a mountain city of panoramic vistas, outdoor adventure, culture, art and unforgettable dining. There’s something for everyone in the funky, eclectic downtown and surrounding natural areas. You can easily drive there from Chicago and New York City (10 hours).
Families can conquer their fears together by trying zip-line racing at Navitat Canopy Adventures. Hanging 350 feet above the forest floor, this mountaintop-to-mountaintop thrill ride is said to be one of the most extreme in country. For families with kids 10 and under, the Adventure Center of Asheville caters to younger daredevils, with nine ziplines and four fun climbing elements, plus a bike park, kayaking and the opportunity to swing and rappel through trees. Hiking is hot in Asheville, with mountains, waterfalls and more to explore. The Blue Ridge Hiking Co. offers custom hikes for all abilities. Take a half- or full-day hike, as well as custom multi-day backpack-ing expeditions on the Appalachian Trail.
All of that adventure will most definitely work up an appetite. Asheville has a vibrant food scene, with more than 250 independent restaurants. The WNC Cheese Trail is a tasty, family-friendly, self-guided tour linking area creameries and farms. Parents can sample local cheeses, and kids will enjoy meeting barnyard animals and exploring the countryside.
New Orleans, Louisianna
“Family Travel with Colleen Kelly” featured New Orleans in season one, because this unique city is rich with Cajun culture and family-friendly activities. (Watch the episode here.) A 14-hour drive from Chicago, and easily accessible from many other cities in the Midwest or East, it can be a great last-minute road trip. New Orleans has a beautiful spring, with average temperatures in the 70s in March.
The French Market is your go-to spot for famous Cajun food and music, plus shopping. Families also enjoy Mardi Gras World, which gives a behind-the-scenes look at the warehouse where the famous floats are made and stored. The Insectarium is a fun place for families to discover creepy-crawly creatures. Make sure you sign up for a live cooking lesson, where the special ingredient is bugs. (Colleen actually ate them!) New Orleans also is home to the World War ll Museum, which connects generations and provides a meaningful learning experience for the entire family.
Once your family has seen all that the city has to offer, head out to the bayou for a swamp tour. You’ll get a close-up look at alligators and possibly have the chance to hold a baby gator.
Nashville, aka Music City, is an easy road trip from Chicago (seven hours) or many other parts of the Midwest. You’ll find available hotels near the Opryland Resort, which is a hub of family fun. Nashville’s March temperatures average in the 60s.
Of course, we can’t talk about Nashville without talking about music. The Grand Ole Opry is a an experience for all ages to enjoy. It honors the rich traditions of country music and is a hotspot for the city. You can purchase kids’ tickets for the shows. Families also can tour the Country Music Hall of Fame, which features hands-on activities, including a new Taylor Swift Education Center that has programs to help kids of all ages experience the culture of country music.
Beyond the music, Nashville offers families many parks and recreational activities. And we all know that no trip is complete without open space for kids to run around. There are more than 100 metro parks in Nashville, including Centennial Park, which has a full-scale replica of the Parthenon from Athens. Families will enjoy the convenience of Nashville’s hop-on hop-off trolley tour. The tour stops at 10 attractions, and you can visit each one at your leisure. The Adventure Science Center has a new planetarium where kids can go on a simulated space walk. There’s also a popular zoo with shaded pathways and a giant jungle gym to help the kids use up their excess energy.
Saint Louis, Missouri
Look up and look down! The famous Saint Louis Arch is 630 feet of pure amazement and the tallest man-made national monument in the United States. You can ride in an enclosed tram to the top, where you can take in breathtaking views of St. Louis and the Mississippi River. You’ll see up to 30 miles on a clear day! The Arch is in the center of downtown, close to many family-friendly hotels. St. Louis is an easy five-hour drive from Chicago.
The city is full of learning opportunities and family activities. It’s home to The Magic House Children’s Museum, a non-traditional learning environment that fosters kids’ creativity and teaches them problem-solving skills. You’ll also want to spend an entire day discovering the hidden treasures of the City Museum. It’s a museum like no other, located in a giant warehouse, and families come from all over to experience it. Crawl through the belly of a whale or a labyrinth of tunnels and caves. Explore an outdoor playground where you can climb up four stories and walk around an old plane and fire truck perched high above the ground, then slide back down. You have to see the City Museum to believe it!
The Saint Louis Zoo is not only fun, but free. TripAdvisor has named it the third best zoo in the U.S. and fourth best in the world. You’ll understand why when you explore the extensive animal habitats and see how the zoo is beautifully situated in Forest Park.
There is no shortage of family fun in Indianapolis. The city, a three-hour drive from Chicago, is packed with parks, museums and budget-friendly dining.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest in the country. Just walking into the museum is a memorable experience — giant dinosaurs protrude from the building! The five-floor museum offers hands-on learning opportunities for kids of all ages, including a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles experience, a journey through China, a steam engine from the 1890s and a river-of-chocolate slide. Kids also can dig for fossils, explore a re-creation of an Egyptian tomb and be an actor or director on a Hollywood set. Don’t forget to seek out the planetarium and a theater that hosts children’s plays and live entertainment.
Related: nearby Fort Wayne, Indiana has a great children’s zoo – and it’s just a quick 2-hour drive north from Indy.
Families can enjoy a stroll or bike ride along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The trail connects cultural districts, neighborhoods and entertainment amenities in the downtown area. Snap photos of public art projects along the way. The mix of the outdoors and art turns a simple walk into an educational experience. And it’s located in the center of downtown, where there is also great food.
A day at the Indianapolis Zoo is the perfect recipe for a family fun day. Kids will especially love the orangutan exhibit. The zoo is part of the beautiful White River State Park, an urban park where you can explore on a Segway or bike, or take a pedal boat along the canal. A pedestrian bridge connects the park and the zoo.