Asheville, North Carolina
Nestled in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains region, Asheville has a cute college vibe in the downtown area, a thriving arts scene, and breathtaking mountain scenery without all the snow. Architecture buffs love the town’s Art Deco-influenced buildings, as well as the Biltmore Estate. Modeled after a French castle, Biltmore Estate ranks as the largest private residence in North America. Shoppers can scoop up fine arts and crafts at local artisan galleries, while nature enthusiasts can foray into the surrounding mountain preserves that burst with colorful wildflowers when spring comes around.
Austin is the “Live Music Capital of the World.” With nearly 200 venues, Texas’s capital is also the state’s most culturally rich city, with museums and art galleries galore. Basically, it's not very Texan. Temperatures averaging in the low 80s in the spring, so this is as late as you'd (I'd) want to go. It’s also when bat-viewing is at its best--you can watch up to 1.5 million bats (considered the largest urban bat colony in North America) take off every night from Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge in search of food.
Charleston, South Carolina
Few cities are more lovely, genteel, and downright Southern than Charleston, South Carolina. Visiting Charleston in the spring is best, with the temperatures warm but bearable. People are friendly and the pace is slow; combine that with the blooming flowers, fantastic restaurants, upscale shopping, and a plethora of beach options nearby and you might stay the whole week.
Death Valley, California
The cheapest way to see what Mars might actually look like, you might want to check out the vast open spaces, arid mountains, rolling sand dunes, old ghost towns, and barren salt pans of Death Valley. Despite its name, this national park comes alive with wildflowers through mid-April, and with summer highs soaring above 120 degrees and winter lows dropping below freezing, spring is the prime season to discover this 3.3-million-acre park’s many wonders: Hike the lowest place in North America (almost 300 feet below sea level), surf a sand dune, visit a Moorish-style castle, and cool down at the top-notch Furnace Creek Inn.
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is colorful, chaotic, and there’s no better way to discover the city where jazz was born than by attending its crowning fête, Jazz Fest (late April/early May). The 10-day cultural event gathers musical acts from across the globe to perform on multiple local stages, while Louisiana cuisine and crafts are showcased at the Fair Grounds Race Course. And come on, the food is crazy good.
Santa Catalina Island, California
Though its heyday as a stomping ground for movie stars passed with Hollywood’s golden age, Catalina Island, 22 miles off the coast of Long Beach, California, is still an idyllic seaside escape with a year-round Mediterranean climate (and nary a freeway in sight). Avalon, the only real city on this 75-square-mile isle, is a striking place where the preferred mode of transport is by golf cart, not car. Check out the Art Deco mermaid murals adorning the grand 1920s circular dance hall known as the Casino, then sprout your own fins and scuba dive in the crystal-clear Pacific. Inland, you’ll discover indigenous foxes, bald eagles, and the offspring of a bison herd brought to the island for a silent-screen-era movie shoot.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Harmonious Santa Fe, New Mexico lives up to its moniker, “the City Different,” thanks to its combination of surreal desert landscapes, sprawling adobe architecture, and the third-largest art market in the United States. Though summer typically draws the largest crowds, spring outings are primed for visiting this city in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, when crowds are fewer, prices are lower, and yucca flowers are in full bloom. Sample the best of native cuisine; shop for eclectic pottery, jewelry, sculptures and paintings; or take a leisurely stroll down popular Canyon Road.