Go West! Surprising Spring Break Fun On The West Coast

By Terry Ward

Where there’s a beautiful western town, there’s almost always an awesome family vacation to be had there, too. We’ve taken the guesswork out of where to go this spring break by stoking your appetite for unforgettable adventures in nature in Santa Barbara, California; Hood River, Oregon; and Sedona, Arizona.

1. Whales And Waterfall Hikes In Santa Barbara

Sunny Santa Barbara’s golden beaches sell themselves for a coastal California spring break trip to remember. But if it’s been a while since you’ve visited The American Riviera, there are plenty of reasons to plot a return as a family.

The Santa Barbara Zoo just debuted its new 15,000 square foot Australian Walkabout habitat, home to wallabies, emus, ‘roos, and more that will have you feeling like you’re Down Under.

Hikers find lots to love in terrain that mixes Santa Ynez Mountain and Pacific Ocean views. Lace up your hiking boots and keep your swimsuit handy for the moderate hike to Seven Falls — a roughly 3-mile roundtrip route where you can break for a swim to cool off. And families love Nojoqui Falls (less than one mile, roundtrip), right off Highway 101, where an 80-foot-high cascade incites wonder after an easy walk to see it.

Through early May, whale watching tours with companies like Condor Express in the Santa Barbara Channel get you thrillingly close to the gray whale migration — during the spring months, you might see for mothers returning with newborn calves from points south.

And Los Padres Outfitters can take you horseback riding with a backdrop of dramatic beach bluffs on Summerland Beach or into the nearby foothills, where trails shaded by canopies of coastal live oak trees and willows are particularly scenic.

You’ll find plenty to fuel your fun in Santa Barbara along the State Street Promenade, a 10-block pedestrian zone lined with outdoor eateries that spawned a parklet trend during the pandemic (it’s still going strong). The Cruisery is a favorite for tacos and churros, and there’s an afternoon farmer’s market here every Tuesday, too.

spring break in western spots

2. Spring Skiing, SUP-ing, And Rail Adventures Await When You Base In Hood River

Kite surfers know Hood River, Oregon, as the summertime hot spot for reliable winds from May through August. But visit this spectacular stretch of inland Oregon along the Columbia River Gorge (about an hour east of Portland) in the spring and you’ll see why it’s one of the best seasons to be here.

Love a family rail adventure? Enjoy a four-hour train trip together aboard the Mount Hood Railroad, a century-old historic passenger train that runs weekend roundtrips from Hood River through a scenic valley carpeted with forests, orchards and vineyards. Spring break is particularly magnificent, with wildflowers coming into full bloom.

Fancy some spring skiing? Oregon is legendary for it. And Mount Hood’s slopes, which stay open into May, are just an hour’s drive south from Hood River. Time things right and you can be back in time go stand-up paddleboarding along the Columbia River Gorge before dinner.

You're deep in Oregon’s growing country in these parts, too, with farm stands everywhere in this rich region famous for fruit and vegetable farming. For killer pizzas with toppings like spring mushrooms and Oregon coast salmon (and some great vegan options, too), Solstice Wood Fire Pizza is a family favorite.

3. Hike To A Vortex And Bask In The Red Rock Wonder Of Sedona

With spring temperatures striking a sublime note in the low-humidity, low-80s, and loads of outdoor adventures to be had, Sedona is particularly appealing for an Arizona spring break. And while many visitors come to the town in search of spiritual healing and treatments, it feels like an act of renewal just be outside here enjoying all there is to do in and around Sedona this time of year.

Sunrise hot air balloon flights with Red Rock Balloons offer a jaw-dropping vantage point over the dramatic canyons and sandstone spires of Red Rock Country. Or you can explore closer to ground just west of Sedona on a self-guided ATV tour (or guided trip) from Cottonwood along the Verde River with Vortex ATV Rental.

Hiking is religion in these pretty, piney parts, and Cathedral Rock’s vortex energy is said to inspire serenity on the hike to the top. For a simpler stroll, families love the easy wander along  West Fork trail in Coconino National Forest, just north of Sedona — a 7-mile out and back route with lots of red rock views that follows a shallow creek, where kids love to stop and splash.

Reward everyone for their efforts back in town at Rocky RD Ice Cream Co., a mom-and-pop shop with seasonal small-batch flavors (prickly pear lime sorbet is made from the fruit of the Arizona cactus, and not to be missed).

And for some of Sedona’s best red rock views alongside excellent craft cocktails, snag a table on the outdoor patio for lunch or dinner at The Vault Uptown and toast your luck to be spring breaking out west as a family.

*These vacations are limited and subject to availability.

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