We may not have an early spring this year.
But we’re definitely having an early spring break.
With Easter falling on April 1, New Orleans-area residents making treks to the Mississippi, Alabama or Florida Panhandle may find the water a little cool, at least until the latter part of April.
However, that shouldn’t deter folks from going, including those who just plan to check into their hotel rooms, relax and never leave the grounds.
For those who do want to do more, here, heading west to east down Interstate 10, are five locales, some popular destinations for Louisianans and some maybe a little off the beaten path, worth checking out for nonaquatic activities as well as their famous beaches.
Ocean Springs, Mississippi
There are no casinos (Biloxi is only five miles away, though), but as Denise Sutton, executive director of the local chamber of commerce, puts it, “That helps make us one of the best-kept secrets on the coast.” It also helps cultivate a welcoming audience that keeps visitors from feeling like tourists.
Not that things are that slow.
The community, which netted one of just three nationwide “American Main Street” designations in 2013, prides itself on being an “outdoor shopping mall,” with plenty of boutiques. For family activity, there’s Fort Maurepas State Park, a reconstruction of the site where d’Iberville established his headquarters in 1699, 19 years before the official founding of New Orleans.
The event is commemorated on April 27-28 with the Weekend of Discovery which features a full-costumed recreation.
One note: Ocean Springs does not have beachfront hotels, but there are several Gulf-view cottages available, plus Gulf Hills Resort, where Elvis vacationed.
Eastern Shore, Alabama
The communities of Spanish Fort, Fairhope and Daphne don’t have the volume of visitors that the those on the Gulf of Mexico proper might.
But to Denise Curtis, communications director for the Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce, that makes them all the more attractive to visit.
“There are just so many opportunities,” Curtis said. “And at this time of year we’re not getting the spring break college crowds so much as families and seniors looking for ways to enjoy themselves with us.”
Of particular interest is the 5 Rivers Delta Resources Center in Spanish Fort, a multipurpose facility dedicated to outdoor recreation and conservation.
Besides the on-site exhibits there are boat tours, canoe and kayak rentals and plenty of nature trails. At the end of April, the center is offering hands-on outdoor experiences.
Going on down the shore, Fairhope is best known for its arts community while Daphne features spectacular sunsets with a different perspective – facing westward into Mobile Bay.
And for those who don’t want to rough it, that’s the Grand Hotel Resort in Point Clear.
There, though, the sunset is the only thing that's free.
Orange Beach/Gulf Shores, Alabama
Despite its rowdy summertime reputation, the “Redneck Rivera” doesn’t market itself to the college crowd. In fact, in response to some “wackadoodle” happenings a couple of years ago after Panama City moved to tone down its spring break image, both Orange Beach and Gulf Shores have banned drinking on the beach.
At the same time, extensive funds have been put into expanding parking, bike paths, shade structures, playgrounds and zip lines in the beach area.
For those who want to get away from the beach, there’s the OWA theme park (the name is inspired by a Native American word for "water") with 21 rides and other attractions in Foley which opened last July to go along with Waterville, USA, the area’s original theme park.
Like many other cities, Pensacola tourist officials downplay the likelihood of spring-break mayhem while emphasizing the family-friendly features of the area.
Pensacola Beach’s pricey hotels probably have something to do with that, although there are plenty of other lodging options away from the 18-mile prime stretch of white sand beaches it offers.
Those beaches are great for relaxing, even if the water’s cool, and there are plentiful seafood restaurants.
This spring’s big event is the Tall Ships Challenge on April 12-15, a week before they arrive for New Orleans’ Tricentennial celebration.
And there are always the Blue Angels, the Navy fliers.
South Walton, Florida
While the prevailing image of the area from Destin to Inlet Beach is one of an unbroken image of high rise hotels and condos, it’s interesting to note that 40 percent of South Walton is preserved land. Four state parks and one state forest make for 100 of miles biking and hiking trails.
A popular way of getting around on those trails is E-bikes, low-powered vehicles that allow younger or less able bikers to keep up with others and those who like to test their endurance to go even further.
Paddle boarding is also increasing in popularity in the area.
An added bonus is that South Walton is one of the few areas that allows bonfires on the beach. You can do your own, hire someone to do it for you or just go to one of those staged by restaurants and bars in the area.
So just in case it’s still cool, you don’t have to shiver.
And, as David Demarest of the South Walton Chamber of Commerce puts it, “No matter what you do, a trip to the beach makes everything a little bit better.”