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10 Awesome & Unexpected Spring Break Destinations

Friends on spring break in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Spring break is an American tradition on par with apple pie. 

Sure, the Founding Fathers didn’t include a springtime getaway in the Bill of Rights, but we can all agree it was implied. While crashing waves and late-night ragers might be the OGs of spring break, today’s travelers are a little more sophisticated, ditching beachside cabanas for banging adventures.

Most destinations love to up-charge for spring break, which is another reason why venturing beyond the stereotypical is a good idea. And if saving cash is your jam, think about booking your spring break travel through Wanderu — the simplest way to compare buses, trains and flights, all in the same search.

So, don’t waste your time off on a cookie-cutter trip to an overpriced, overcrowded tourist trap. (Though if you insist, here’s how to get to the most popular spring break destinations in the U.S. for under $60.) 

If you’d rather take the road less traveled (literally), then check out these 10 unexpected spring break destinations. 

1. Providence, RI

Providence - most sustainable type of transportation

TOP ATTRACTIONS: The Providence Athenaeum, RISD Museum, Benefit Street, Waterfire, Plant City

WHY TO VISIT: Founded 384 years ago, Providence is old (like, as old as it gets in America), but the vibe here is decidedly fresh.

Exhibit A: Plant City, a plant-based food hall, which opened last year to three cheers from herbivores. Located at one end of the city’s newest pedestrian bridge, Plant City houses four vegan restaurants, a coffee bar and a marketplace.

A couple of blocks away, you’ll find the Rhode Island School of Design, one of the best art schools in the country. The school’s museum remains open, even while students are on break, and there they still consider nudity a form of art — not just the byproduct of a skeezy wet T-shirt contest.

2. Santa Fe, NM

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Canyon Road, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Meow Wolf

WHY TO VISIT: The landscapes of New Mexico are other-worldly, and the city of Santa Fe is both evocative and energizing. For the civilized visitor there are a bevy of museums and galleries to choose from, and a walk down Canyon Street will deliver you to many of them.

For the wilder and crazier among you, there’s Meow Wolf, a renowned artist collective that offers an array of trippy and interactive experiences, including House of Eternal Return, created with support from George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame). According to Meow Wolf, it’s a “multidimensional mystery house with secret passages, portals to magical worlds, and an expansive narrative amidst surreal, maximalist and mesmerizing art exhibits.” Um, sounds like you have to be there.

Meow Wolf also has consistent live-music performances throughout the month of March, so check their calendar in advance.

3. Philadelphia, PA

TOP ATTRACTIONS: The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, Reading Terminal Market

WHY TO VISIT: It’s not just for brothers! Philly is for anyone who likes fancy city stuff with a side of greasy sandwiches. Why not make your professors proud and spend a morning on the classics: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. 

Next, we suggest you get weird and hit up Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, a folk-art space that spans three city blocks and includes expansive mosaics and an outdoor labyrinth. (There are guided site tours every Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout March.)

For dinner (lunch, breakfast, whatever), head to South Philly, where you can decide who has the better cheesesteak: Pat’s or Geno’s. Seriously, try both: The legendary sandwich shops are just yards from each other. Or, check out these excellent vegan options in Philadelphia for lighter fare.

If you’re in the market for even more Philly-based fun that doesn’t destroy your bank account, check out our guide to free activities in The Cradle of Liberty

4. San Antonio, TX

Photo of San Antonio's famous River Walk at night.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: San Antonio River Walk, The Alamo, Historic Market Square

WHY TO VISIT: This Lonestar state is big on gardens. There’s the Japanese tea garden (bubble tea!), the Yanaguana Garden (public art!), and the San Antonio Botanical Garden (typical, beautiful garden stuff!).

If stopping to smell the roses isn’t your thing, you can satisfy your need for speed at one of the area’s theme parks: Six Flags Fiesta Texas, SeaWorld San Antonio and Morgan’s Wonderland. Or if you’ve spent the winter perfecting your beach bod, show it off at Schlitterbahn, a first-rate waterpark just 35 minutes outside of San Antonio. While you’re in the area, remember the Alamo — no, really: The old fortress is right downtown, and an easy jaunt from the city’s iconic River Walk. 

San Antone’s warm weather, extensive shopping and great night clubs also earned it a spot on our ranking of the top cities for a spring break girls’ trip.

5. Kansas City, MO

Bird's-eye view of Kansas City, Missouri.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Boulevard Brewing Company, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Country Club Plaza, American Jazz Museum

WHY TO VISIT: There are loads of other reasons to visit KCMO besides beer and barbecue. But since brews and brisket are very appropriate spring-break indulgences (in that they both will make you sloppy), we won’t concern ourselves with that other stuff here. To make sure you visit all the big names — Jack Stack, Arthur Bryant, Danny Edwards, Joe’s, LC’s, Gatesbook a bbq tour around the city.

To wash it down, schedule a tour and a tasting at Boulevard Brewing Company, producer of the Midwest’s favorite beer. 

6. Raleigh–Durham, NC

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Franklin Street (Chapel Hill/Carrboro), North Carolina Museum of Art, Sarah P. Duke Gardens

WHY TO VISIT: The Research Triangle is anything but square.

Yes, we know it sounds weird to spring break in a destination with the word “research” in it, but consider this: Between the three cities (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) there are 100,000 college students living in the area. With that many young people, you know there’s fun to be had. 

To party like a Tarheel, head to Franklin Street, where shops, bars and music venues are hoppin’ all day and night. In Durham, Sarah P. Duke Gardens offers 55 acres of zen, and Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art trumps your average museum with exhibits by big names like Freida Kahlo, as well as unconventional artists like Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers. In March at the NCMA, celebrate the Roman god of wine by attending “The Bacchus Conservation Project: The Story of a Sculpture” exhibition.

7. Marquette, MI

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, Black Rocks Brewery, Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, Sugarloaf Mountain

WHY TO VISIT: OK, bear with us: We know Michigan is still chilly in March (and April, and May). But the Upper Peninsula is best served cold.

Bike, hike, hunt, fish or paddle across this beautiful region, then rest your head in Marquette — the UP’s largest town and cultural hub. To fuel up for more outdoor adventures, find yourself a pasty (rhymes with nasty) — a hand pie filled with beef and vegetables — at delectable Jean Kay’s or head to one of these excellent restaurants in Marquette.

8. Boise, ID

Photo of the Boise, Idaho, skyline.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: The Basque Block, Boise River Greenbelt, Freak Alley Gallery

WHY TO VISIT: All alliteration aside, the Basque Block in Boise is one of the West’s most unique neighborhoods. 

Here you’ll find a thriving Basque community (the ethnic group that historically occupied the land around the Bay of Biscay in Spain and France, and who have a language unrelated to any other on Earth), as well as a museum, cultural center, and eateries serving up paella and beef tongue. (Culinary adventure may not typically be associated with spring break, but we can promise you it beats out sunburns and the stale taste of tequila the morning after a bender.)

Just outside of town, you can take a hike to the Black Cliffs, where huge towers of lava rock beckon climbers and Instagrammers alike.

9. Charlottesville, VA

Photo of Monticello in Charlottesville.

TOP ATTRACTIONS: Monticello, Downtown Mall, Shenandoah National Park, IX Art Park

WHY TO VISIT: Music, murals, dance, art installations and experiences: IX Art Park is spring break on drugs (legal drugs, of course). Inspired by Burning Man and housed in the skeleton of an old textile mill, IX Art Park offers free daily programming and seasonal exhibitions designed to inspire your playful side.

Even more play can be found in historic downtown Charlottesville, a pedestrian-only area where residents and UVA students converge to eat, drink and be merry.

10. Tampa, FL

TOP ATTRACTIONS: The Florida Aquarium, Ybor City, Tampa Theatre, Big Cat Rescue

WHY TO VISIT: You knew Florida had to be somewhere on this list. While most vacationing students make a break for South Beach, Tampa truly has something for everyone. (Bonus: It’s the third cheapest drinking city in the country, so you can still get sauced without emptying your wallet.)

For the nature lovers in your party, head to the Florida Aquarium to meet otters, lemurs and turtles, or to the Big Cat Rescue, the largest sanctuary for wild felines in the U.S. For movie buffs, the Tampa Theatre, a 30’s-era movie palace, is a must. And for the old-school partiers, catch an Uber uptown to Ybor City, where you’ll come across flamenco dancers, drag queens and loud, sweaty nightclubs.

Oh, and yes — there’s sand. TripAdvisor has actually named Clearwater Beach the best beach in the country twice over in the past five years.

The first three months of the year are a time of constant stress: New classes to attend, new resolutions to keep. By the time spring break rolls around, an escape is essential to release all that pent-up pressure. 

Booking travel can be stressful too, but not with Wanderu. On and the free Wanderu app, you can find the cheapest trips to whatever your destination — all of your options, all in the same search. 

Whether you picture yourself on the beach, hiking up a mountain or exploring an urban oasis, we’ve got the tools to take you there.

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About the author
Ashley Stimpson

Ashley Stimpson

Ashley Stimpson is a freelance travel and outdoors writer based in Baltimore, Maryland. Her dream vacation would entail early-morning birdwatching, late-night cabaret, and a free upgrade to first class.

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