Spring break is over, and for you, an adult, that means one thing: It's safe to leave the house. You weren't going to be doing beer bongs at Señor Frog's anyway, but do some quick math and you'll realize that we're in one of those glorious hammock seasons when the college and high school kids are all fruitfully occupied with finals and/or general horniness, whereas you, with some vacations days banked, can take advantage of unique deals and cool domestic springtime experiences before the summer crowds get too bonkers.
We've scouted out some of the best picks in America for you here: getting your dose of wildflowers, scoping hawks, or even locking in those northern lights in the relative comfort of non-winter temps. Or even attending a mullet festival. Just because you're not in Cancun doesn't mean things can't get a little weird.
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You know this Inland Empire valley for its eponymous music festival, but it's a chill visit any time of year -- particularly in spring, when the flowers are blowing up and the weather hasn't turned into a dry-heat triple digits. Thanks to plentiful Southern California winter rains this year, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California's biggest state park, is celebrating a spring "superbloom" of wildflowers. Not to be overlooked are the oddball artist colony of Slab City, the eerily beautiful Salton Sea, and the burgeoning "desert rock" scene around the Queens of the Stone Age studio Rancho de la Luna, near Joshua Tree. The region is also home to Palm Springs and one of America's best nudist resorts, if that's your thing.
Chena Hot Springs, Alaska
Part hot springs/part resort/part unincorporated community/part alternative-energy research center, Chena Hot Springs -- about 50 miles north of Fairbanks -- is your go-to spot for soaking your tired bones in the healing waters of its natural outdoor hot springs rock lake and looking up at the aurora borealis (aka the northern lights) in the early spring. You can also take scenic nature flights over the surrounding glaciers before heading back to the resort to sip drinks in hand-carved ice glasses at the onsite Aurora Ice Bar located within the year-round Aurora Ice Museum. The area's spectacular spring northern lights shows are best viewed between 10pm and 3am, so you might want to keep that ice drink handy.
Key Largo, Florida
As much as America likes to josh Florida (there's endless material to work with), it's hard to overlook its easy accessibility to sun and beach when you just want to get the hell out of dodge. With its annual Ultra Music Festival madness, you might have Miami in mind for a spring trip. But for a saner escape, Key Largo offers a funky taste of old Florida without the relentless untz untz untz of South Beach. The largest island in the Florida Keys just got a beautiful and always-happening Playa Largo Resort, the first full-service resort built in Key Largo in more than 20 years, featuring private bungalows and a two-story beach house. This is where to loll before June wakes up the subtropical humidity (and kicks off hurricane season).
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Imagine a music fest that, instead of requiring you to wade through the city and elbow out inebriated teens for a view of the stage, simply required you to pick a spot on the beach and chill. That's Hangout Music Festival, one of the country's most underrated music festivals (see Frank Ocean… by the ocean!), and it's taking place in May in Gulf Shores -- an equally underrated scenic beach town of powdery white sand and picturesque pastel homes. A couple hours' drive from New Orleans, the surrounding Gulf Coast region has similarly worthwhile destinations in Gulfport and Ocean Springs. But Gulf Shores earns the edge in spring thanks to its glorious fish-throwing contest/beach party known as the Interstate Mullet Toss, taking place outside the iconic Flora-Bama bar in late April.
Just as eye-popping as fellow SoCal spring flower destination is the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, about 80 miles north of LA, near the town of Lancaster. Picture expanses of brilliant color even in down years that, due to the winter deluges, have exploded out of the previously parched desert. Sandwiched between the Tehachapi and snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains at the western edge of the Mojave Desert, the stunning vistas can be taken in via eight miles of dirt trail that wind through gentle rolling hills. No matter how tempting, do not go frolic in them Wizard of Oz-style… unless your spring travel plans also include a trip to the ER to treat rattlesnake bites.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Argue if you must, but the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fest is America's best music festival, in America's best city to visit, at its best time of year. Yet the always-eclectic lineup of this long-running 10-day spring throwdown -- this year featuring Widespread Panic, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, Kings of Leon, Lorde, and Snoop Dogg -- still can't compete with NOLA itself. With daytime sets taking place under the glorious sun at the New Orleans Fair Grounds, the real action is at the afterparties that fill mid-size venues like Tipitina's and quintessential dives like The Maple Leaf. A stopover at Commander's Palace or Jacques-Imo's for dinner is never a bad idea, but you haven't experienced the city until you've stumbled out of Snake and Jake's at 7am with a to-go cup in hand.
Texas Hill Country
In this vast expanse of "real Texas" real estate extending west from Austin and north from San Antonio, the rolling terrain of Texas Hill Country pops in spring when the bluebonnets come into full bloom. Peep the bright blues, whites, yellows, and purples sprouting up from the grassy hills along endless miles of two-lane Texas tarmac, passing through dusty old cowboy towns with scenic caverns, rivers, and swimming holes up along the way. Muleshoe Bend Recreation Area is a prime spot for bluebonnet peeping, or you can pair your flower-gazing with a glass of vino on a Wine & Wildflower winery tour. Either way, be sure to stop in Llano for some Cooper's BBQ along the way if you know what's good for you.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
While Washington, DC's famed cherry blossoms have already peaked, you can still get your flower fix in the DC area with a trip to Northern Virginia's stunning Shenandoah National Park, with its 850 species of wildflowers. While the park nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains is most famous for its spectacular fall foliage, spring is no slouch. The park hosts a "wildflower weekend" in early May with guided hikes to some of its best flower-spotting sites. You can also take in the scene by driving the picturesque, 105-mile Skyline Drive, but the best part about this park may be its close proximity to the town of Charlottesville, home to University of Virginia and a punching-seriously-above-its weight food and drink scene. Hell, you might just come to this gorgeous town as a base to explore the park and decide to just stay here instead. Which would be quite alright too.
If your idea of a crazy spring break involves observing migrating hawks on a remote stretch of mountain road at the northern tip of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Brockway Mountain Drive is calling your name. Running along the ridge of Brockway Mountain, with panoramic views of Lake Superior extending all the way to Isle Royale National Park on a clear day, this scenic road is shut in winter but comes roaring back to life in the spring for bird migratory season. The area also boasts its fair share of spring wildflowers as well, with over 700 species, including rarities found nowhere else in the state. Stargazing and getting away from it all are key activities here, with the biggest town along the road being the bustling metropolis of Eagle Harbor (pop. 281).
Between the winter ski and summer hiking seasons, spring is the cheapest, most underrated time to visit many Colorado ski resorts, where rooms can be had for a fraction of what you'd normally pay. This year, due to the massive local winter snow dump, ski season has been extended at several resorts and continues at Breckenridge until April 23 -- complete with a month-long "spring fever" party to close out the season with events including a beer fest held at the base of the mountain. While you're here, check out live music in the historic Downtown, head out to Boreas Pass for panoramic mountain vistas over the water, or take a short trip to visit the funky nearby towns of Alma and Dillon.
Park City, Utah
Spring shoulder-season deals make this time of year the cheapest to visit Utah's most well-known resort town. While it has a reputation for celebrity sightings during Sundance, in spring it's just another laid-back mountain town up for pretty much anything. Strolling or riding the free trolley down its picturesque Main St is a must, and there is perhaps no finer activity than basking in the spring sun over a few pints of craft beer on the rooftop of local hangout No Name Saloon. Nearby Salt Lake City is one of the most underrated (and cheap) destinations in America, while the surrounding Wasatch Mountains are as good a place as any to lose yourself in nature.
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Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor and world traveler who's never met an ice bar he didn't like. Follow @innerviewmag.