I love a vacation any time of year—don't get me wrong. But there's something especially sweet about leaving your snow-covered backyard for the beach or somewhere warm. Avoid the swarms of college kids with a spring-break trip to one of my five favorite family-friendly destinations:
* St Petersburg or Clearwater, Florida The area is chock full of pristine beaches (including top-ranked Fort DeSoto Park) plus fantastic attractions. If your kids love the movie A Dolphin Tale, a trip to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is in order to see Winter, the rescued dolphin featured in the film. You also won't want to miss the Sunken Gardens and Great Explorations Children's Museum (a highlight for a fellow Parents staffer who recently visited with his two girls) as well as The Dali Museum. The art museum goes out of its way to make sure the kids are happy—with storytimes and treasure hunts—so you can enjoy the paintings. Baseball fans might be able to catch a spring-training game since the Philadelphia Phillies play there in March. Two fantastic places to stay in the area: The Loews Don Cesar Beach Resort (Parents recently ranked the chain among the best for families) and the Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club (part of the Marriott chain so you can use your award points). In case you're wondering: This area is also only about two hours away from Orlando so you can easily combo a beach getaway with a few days at Walt Disney World.
* Fort Myers, Florida My friend took her daughter here last Spring Break—and it's been on my bucket list since. The main reason: Shells, galore, in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The area is also a nature paradise, boasting the J N Ding Darling National Wildlife Center. The South Seas Island Resort in nearby Captiva has made Parents list of best beach resorts several times. I love that it has a mix of accommodations (from typical hotel rooms to condos with kitchens) and a 330-acre nature preserve is part of the property.
* Southern California You'll have a blast doing a So Cal road trip from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Spend a couple days in San Diego, visiting the museums at Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo (pandas!), and the beaches in Coronado. If you have young kids, you can head north to Legoland California and/or Disneyland. If your kids are old enough to be Harry Potter fans, you might want to check out The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood opening on April 7. Then you can wrap up the trip in jawdroppingly beautiful Santa Barbara, where the family can tour the Old Mission. If you can splurge, the Bacara Resort & Spa is truly beautiful and kid-friendly.
* Phoenix Like the mountains more than the beach? Head to this city which offers incredible outdoor adventures (like the Echo Canyon Recreation area) plus a superb zoo and children's museum. Its large musical instrument museum (a Smithsonian affiliate) offers loads of programming for toddlers to teens. The Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort keeps families happy with a lazy river and mini golf on site.
* Hawaii Spring Break is prime whale watching season in the island paradise. Lots of companies offer whale-watching boat tours, but you might also be able to see them from the beach with binoculars. Of all the islands, it's easiest (and least expensive) to get to Oahu, which is chock full of family-friendly resorts. In Honolulu, the Hilton Hawaiian Village is a fantastic choice for its Waikiki beach location, hula lessons, Camp Penguin kids' club, and plethora of pools and waterslides. Pair a stay in the city with one in another part of the island: Aulani, a Disney Hawaii Resort, is about an hour away. Many children's activities at Auntie's Beach House and the Starlit Hui, an evening celebration with storytelling, hula, and Disney characters, are included in your room rate. Or head to the Turtle Bay Resort in the "North Shore" area of Oahu. It's so gorgeous that several major movies—including scenes from The Hunger Games—were filmed there. Turtle Bay offers special spring break programming, such as an outrigger canoe turtle search and horseback riding, from March 16 to April 16 for kids ages 7 to 14.
Karen Cicero is contributing travel editor at Parents magazine. See what she and her family are up to on Twitter @karencicero or Instagram @Karen.Cicero