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7 great alternative Spring Break destinations
Avoid the drunken crowds while storming the Washington Coast, getting down in the Grand Canyon and skiing for cheap in Montana
Ah … Spring Break.
Either way, one thing is for sure -- there are crowds to be avoided.
These seven alternative spring break destinations are for the discriminating reveler who prefer offbeat -- but still awesome -- canyon, mountain, beach or storm.
Most of the five million annual visitors to Grand Canyon National Park come to gape into its perspective-busting, 1,800-meter-deep, 446-kilometer-long, 29-kilometer-wide abyss during the summer, without venturing more than 100 steps below the steaming canyon’s rim.
Another option: losing the gawker crowds and making that once-in-a-lifetime descent to the bottom of the world’s most famous hole in the ground.
When not to do it: winter when it’s frigid and wet; May through September -- the inner gorge’s “danger months” -- when scorching temperatures inside the canyon enter the triple digits.
That leaves a couple of short, temperate hiking windows including early spring, a great time to beat all those summer Grand Canyon Village throngs at the top and that spiking thermometer down below.
Permits are required for overnighting in the canyon. If you don’t have one for this spring (permits were all issued months ago), showing up at the park’s Backcountry Information Center and getting waitlisted will usually score you one within a couple of days. And, hey, it’s Spring Break. You have all week.
For more detailed directions, you can refer to this trip planner, courtesy of the National Park Service.
More information available at www.nps.gov/grca
Grand Canyon Shuttle Service; between Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon as well as between the North and South rims; +1 888 215 3105; www.grandcanyonshuttles.com
Bridger Bowl, Montana
As much as all those monolithic ski resorts down in Colorado and Utah would like to lay claim to having the best snow, the sweetest runs and the warmest Bailey’s ‘n' hot chocolate, may we direct your attention to Bridger Bowl -- a far lesser-known local powder haven hiding in Montana’s picturesque Gallatin National Forest -- just 26 kilometers north of Bozeman?
Bridger Bowl may not have a fancy gondola, a fleet of high-speed quads, a record-breaking vertical or even the in-state name recognition of nearby resorts like Big Sky and Moonlight Basin.
What this easily-accessible nonprofit ski area and 2012 NCAA Skiing Championship site does have is some of the best spring skiing for the money anywhere -- starting with (this is not a typo) a $69 Ski & Lodge “Domestic Bliss Ski Package.”
Take that, Vail.
15795 Bridger Canyon Road, Bozeman, Mont.; +1 800 223 9609; bridgerbowl.com
Southern California's favorite "island"
Somewhere along every sweet patch of U.S. shoreline is a little beach community claiming to be “the most revived seaside resort town in America.”
Our vote for that badge is Coronado. The Victorian-era “island” hideaway (technically, a peninsula) on the far side of a boomerang-shaped bridge linked to downtown San Diego offers one of the quickest steel-girder connected transitions from urban grit to pure coastal charm on this side of the Pacific.
Coronado’s trifecta: a flawless, Mediterranean climate; a lively main drag along Orange Avenue, with rows of resuscitated shops, cafés and theaters and a gleaming shoreline that got the nod from beach aficionado Stephen “Dr. Beach” Leatherman as last year’s second nicest strip of sand in the country.
Never mind a recent U.S. News and World Report listing Coronado as one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. You’re just visiting. Preferably in a seaside home rental (plentiful here) or at the Hotel del Coronado, a beachfront landmark that’s hosted presidents, movie stars, sheiks and numerous discriminating alternative Spring Break revelers over the last century.
Hotel del Coronado; 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, Calif.;+1 800 468 3533; www.hoteldel.com
The Olympic Peninsula
March and early April is still off-season in the Pacific Northwest. Unless you’re a storm watcher, that is. Then the wave-battered, rain-hammered, wind-pelted coast of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula smokes Cancun any day of the week.
For front-row seats to one of the most enchantingly torrential edges of the world, book a rustic log cabin or ocean-facing room at Olympic National Park’s Kalaloch Lodge and ask about any “storm-watching specials.”
Perched above a vast beach piled with wave-tossed conifer logs, the historic property has been dubbed one of the “10 Best Places to Storm Watch” by Seattle Magazine and various other publications which honor this singular springtime diversion.
Kalaloch Lodge; 157151 U.S. 101, Forks, Wash.; +1 866 525 2562; www.thekalalochlodge.com
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Highway A1A, from Amelia Island to St. Augustine
Many years before the first Fort Lauderdale bacchanalia, South Beach VolleyPalooza competition and Key West timeshare offer, Florida’s north Atlantic coast was America’s original riviera -- its 160 or so freshly railroaded kilometers of appealing seashore reeling in the first wave of pioneer beach bums.
Then more track was laid, and almost overnight the holiday masses fled to the Sunshine State’s Deep South meccas that everyone knows about.
But whatever happened to that original holiday hub -- hiding up in Florida’s Deep North?
Actually, it’s still there, stretching along one of the sweetest patches of coast any Florida-bound alternative Spring Break reveler could ever overlook.
Start the odyssey on historic Amelia Island, a time-warped digit of land just 45 minutes' drive from Jacksonville International. Prime destination is the town of Fernandina Beach, with its rows of Victorian mansions, converted bed-and-breakfasts and “haunted” red-brick Civil War-era Fort Clinch, lining the north coast. Tucked away on the island’s south end is a Ritz-Carlton if you need it.
A quick drive south on fabled State Route A1A leads to Little Talbot Island State Park and some of the purest Florida beach solitude available.
For more noise, cruise 64 kilometers south of Jacksonville to the trolley-clanking, cobblestone streets of St. Augustine -- aka the oldest city in the United States, founded by the Spanish 441 years ago -- where an easy blend of seaside charm, Spanish Renaissance architecture and “oldest city”-themed kitsch awaits.
The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island; 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Amelia Island, Fla.; +1 904 277 1100; www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/AmeliaIsland
Spanish Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico
Charting a yacht in the Caribbean? Actually, it’s more doable than normal folks (who don’t own yachts) might think. And -- huge bonus -- you get to set your own course far from all the cruise line hordes.
Step one (imperative): get up to speed on yacht chartering basics by contacting an experienced broker accredited with a recognized chartering organization like the Charter Yacht Brokers Association or the American Yacht Charter Association that can tailor a charter sailing vacation precisely to your needs without adding to the cost. The Moorings is one of the largest charter yacht fleets in North America, with several bases throughout the Caribbean.
Step two (suggested): fly to Puerto Rico and set sail for the Spanish Virgin Islands. Wedged like a quiet middle child between Puerto Rico’s east coast and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, this far lesser-known mini archipelago may be the closest thing to experiencing the Caribbean 40 years ago.
There’s no shortage of charter vessels embarking from the port town of Fajardo, where a short, breezy sail puts you at anchor in the pristine bays and protected reefs of the Spanish Virgin’s two principal isles, Vieques and Culebra, along with several picturesque cays that haven’t seen much of a crowd since the Spanish galleon days.
The Moorings; 93 North Park Place Boulevard, Clearwater, Fla.; +1 888 952 8420; www.moorings.com
Somewhere in need
ASB. Maybe this college student-launched acronym rings a bell -- and, no, we’re not talking about Attention Seeking Behavior, the Arts & Sciences Building or the Aarhus School of Business.
The term Alternative Spring Break arose from the radical idea that an exuberant week in late March doesn’t have to just be about mashing moguls, erasing a tan line, boozing by the pool or just catching up on your texting and sleep.
Turns out Spring Break is an optimum time to provide volunteer service to people and places that could really use the help.
Hooking up with an ASB-sponsored organization like the United Way, Habitat for Humanity or even the American Hiking Society (for some volunteer trail-building at a wilderness near you) can be one of the most rewarding and constructive ways to spend some valuable time off.
The list of ASB-sponsored orgs is long and varied. Virtually any major college site can point you in the right direction. Or visit Break Away, a national nonprofit “dedicated to developing lifelong active citizenship through quality alternative break programs.”
United Way; +1 703 836 7112; www.unitedway.org
American Hiking Society; +1 1 800 972 8608; www.americanhiking.org
Break Away; +1 800 903 0646; www.alternativebreaks2012.org
Habitat for Humanity; +1 1 800 422 4828, Ext. 2215; www.habitat.org
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