Having grown up in Georgia, I admit I’m biased, but there’s nothing more delightful than springtime in the South. The dogwoods and azaleas start to burst into bloom as early as mid-March, and the weather turns deliciously warm and breezy. A spring sojourn here is an easy decision; what’s harder is narrowing down where to go.
Here are five of my favorite Southeastern getaways with kids. They’re at their best this time of year, in the sweet spot between drizzly winter and sticky summer, and each of them offers an enticing range of activities for kids of all ages. Above all, they embody the inimitable sense of place that makes this region so special.
Gracious and genteel, this coastal grande dame feels like nowhere else on earth. It’s heavenly in spring, with mild breezes blowing in from the sea and brilliant blossoms peeking from behind the palm trees.
Among the city’s most picturesque spots is the Battery, an old defensive seawall that’s now home to the most upper-crust mansions in town. Adjacent Battery Park offers plenty of room for kids to run and is dotted with cannons and cannonballs from the Civil War. The South Carolina Aquarium and the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry are can’t-miss favorites with little ones. Step back in time at an old plantation like Drayton Hall or Middleton Place, or learn about the first wartime shots fired at Fort Sumter.
Outside Charleston proper lies Patriots Point, site of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, the USS Clamagore submarine, and more. The area is also home to several wonderful beach communities; my favorite is Folly Beach on James Island, a laid-back local favorite with a slightly bohemian vibe and a handful of great restaurants.
When it’s time to turn in for the night, choose a kid-friendly hotel in the historic district, such as Belmond Charleston Place. Splurge on a club-level room; the excellent breakfast, snack and dessert offerings, plus the lounge space to spread out, are worth it. You can pair your stay in town with a little beach time at one of the islands a short drive from the city — The Sanctuary at Kiawah is among our favorite luxury properties in the region.
Just two hours down the coast from Charleston lies its sister (and rival) Savannah, equal parts Lowcountry charm and Southern Gothic. Savannah wears its past on its sleeve — weathered and evocative, it truly feels like one of the oldest cities in the U.S. At the heart of the historic district is Forsyth Park, with a glorious fountain and ample benches where parents can relax while the little ones run. Stroll down to the waterfront to see the ships in the harbor and take a short but fun water taxi ride on the Savannah River.
The city’s excellent Telfair Museums include the ArtZeum, an interactive space that allows kids to get hands-on with artwork. If there’s a Girl Scout in the family, a stop at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace is essential. Fancy a day at the beach? Make the short drive to Tybee Island, where kids can climb the lighthouse, try their hand at crabbing and explore 19th-century Fort Pulaski.
Savannah is chockablock with B&Bs and historic inns, and as a rule, they’re not especially geared toward kids. Instead, try The Drayton, perfectly situated near the riverfront and an easy walk from much of the best local sightseeing, shopping and dining. Housed in a 19th-century bank building, it boasts sassy retro-chic style and a rooftop lounge with beautiful views over the river and the city. It’s best for school-age kids and up; families with very young ones might prefer the Hyatt Regency Savannah, which has a fantastic location nearby plus an array of children’s amenities.
TIP: If St. Patrick’s Day falls during your spring break, be forewarned: Savannah puts on a huge, sometimes wild, St. Paddy’s celebration. Plan for crowds and noise, and book accommodations early.
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When I was a kid, Scenic 30-A — a two-lane highway that hugs 30ish miles of Panhandle shoreline — was a humble stretch of scrub oaks and low-slung cottages. Fast-forward to now: A string of planned luxury communities such as Seaside and Rosemary Beach, plus the powdery white sand and clear emerald water, have vaulted it to the top of the Southeast beach scene. Spring is lively (though not as busy as the summer high season) and plenty warm enough to luxuriate in the sun, though the ocean can still be on the cool side for swimming.
Although 30-A is a stone’s throw from the spring break chaos of Panama City, it feels light years away. Families flock here and it’s home to scores of upscale shops, galleries and restaurants. Outdoor activities reign, from biking and paddleboarding to boating and simply lounging on the sand. Sightseeing in the area is limited, but nearby Pensacola is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum, and you might be lucky enough to catch a Blue Angels air show.
There are few hotels on 30-A — vacation rentals are the norm, from one- and two-bedroom condos to lavish beachfront cottages — but the upscale, kid-friendly WaterColor Inn & Resort is a notable exception. Rental agencies abound throughout the area; CB! Family Vacation consultants can help connect you with one that fits your needs.
Yes, Georgia has islands! Off its southeastern coast lie clusters of beautiful isles, each with a different flavor. The poshest is Sea Island, home to famed luxury resort The Cloister — paradise for kids as well as parents. This sprawling property sits on a private beach and offers a huge variety of children’s programming, plus family-friendly accommodations that range from standard rooms to cottages and townhomes.
Saint Simons Island is rich in history, with a 19th-century lighthouse and Revolutionary War-era battle sites. Afterward, lighten up at Neptune Park Fun Zone, complete with putt-putt, waterpark, playground and more, then walk over to Moo Cow Ice Cream for a sweet treat.
To my mind, the most special of all is Cumberland Island National Seashore. Serene and undeveloped, Cumberland has an otherworldly feel, enhanced by deserted beaches, the ruins of an old mansion known as Dungeness, and wild horses that roam the beaches and trot amid the trees. There are no cars and literally no services other than a couple of restrooms and water fountains. Due to its isolation, Cumberland is not ideal for babies and toddlers, but with older kids it’s a spectacular spot to get off the grid and spend meaningful time together.
For accommodations, you have two choices: the Sea Camp camping ground or, at the other end of the spectrum, the 19th-century Greyfield Inn, Cumberland’s one oasis of luxury. The Greyfield welcomes kids 6 and up. Be aware, though, that the overall ambiance is quiet and refined. If you’d like to explore the island but not stay there, base in nearby Fernandina Beach, Florida, and make a day trip via the ferry that leaves from St. Marys, Georgia, just over the state line. Advance reservations are a must.
TIP: Many Cumberland day trippers prefer to explore on foot, but bikes allow you to cover more ground. Bring your own or rent them from Camden Bicycle Center in St. Marys; you can take them onto the ferry for a small additional fee.
Think there’s nothing but adult-oriented fun in NOLA? Think again: the Crescent City is an unsung gem for families. Spring is a fantastic time to visit, as Mardi Gras mayhem is over and summer’s swampy heat hasn’t settled in. Kick off your visit in the French Quarter, a raucous, totally unique blend of sounds and smells and colors that turns a simple walk into an adventure. (Just don’t let the kids wander down Bourbon Street, which is decidedly not family-friendly.)
Make time to visit at least one branch of the Audubon Nature Institute, which includes an aquarium, an insectarium and a wonderful zoo. City Park is home to the Louisiana Children’s Museum, plus fanciful playgrounds that will captivate little ones, and the National World War II museum is a must-see for school-age kids and up. Ride the streetcars through the picturesque Garden District down to Audubon Park, a perfect spot for kids to run and blow off steam. And, of course, everyone will have a blast eating their way through the city’s incredible restaurants.
Although I rarely suggest staying in the French Quarter with kids, I make an exception for Audubon Cottages, an upscale, intimate haven that feels a world away from the noise and crowds. Otherwise, stay in or near the quieter Central Business District — Loews New Orleans and Windsor Court Hotel are both excellent choices.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Lisa Frederick.
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