March is an exciting month. Winter starts to fade, St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras inject some fun and thoughts turn to travel, especially for those getting a break from school. As the kick-off to the spring and summer travel seasons, it’s always interesting to see what destinations spike in popularity specifically for March. So we asked our data team which travel hot spots saw a peak in demand for March versus the rest of the year. Below are the top 10 places that got the most relative attention from aspiring March travelers as well as some thoughts as to why these locales are so hot right now.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
This is all-inclusive resort central, a relatively easy and affordable place to escape to when the winter gets you down — especially from the East Coast. And this winter is sending a lot of East Coasters packing as they look to trade the polar vortex for the Punta Cana sun. With highs in the low 80s and the rainy (and hurricane) season months away, March in Punta Cana seems like just the right plan after a snowy and frigid January and February. Plenty of resorts and travel agents are featuring last minute deals, making Punta Cana an enticing spot for people to start their spring early. Just be aware that college students have figured this out as well, ensuring that a good number of vacationers heading there in March are escaping school as well as winter weather.
San Diego, Calif.
On March 1, the Flower Fields of Carlsbad are opening this year. Yes, flowers bloom almost anywhere in the spring but not usually 50 acres at a time in a rainbow cascade down a hill with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. We can’t say for sure this is why the always popular San Diego has spiked as a favorite for March travel, but we do know 100,000 people turn out each year to see this annual display of brightly colored ranunculus 30 minutes outside the city – and not far from LEGOLAND. Add in that San Diego’s Viejas Arena is playing host to second and third round games in the NCAA Basketball Tournament (aka March Madness) and that you can get warm weather and off-season crowds and prices (except during the tournament weekend), and it’s clear that those heading there in March are on to a good thing.
Panama City, Fla.
While Fort Lauderdale is the birthplace of college Spring Break, Panama City is the current reigning party spot in Florida. Each year, reportedly nearly half a million students flood the 27-mile stretch of beach as well as the night clubs, concert stages and hotel and condo pools of Panama City throughout March and into early April. Not the time to hit the beach looking for some peace and quiet!
Food and wine are always a big draw. So when a state the size (and with the food and wine resume) of Washington dedicates a month to it, people seem to notice. March is “Taste Washington Wine Month,” which means wineries, restaurants and tasting rooms across the state are joining forces to entice you to visit with deals, special menus, pairings and events of all kinds. The culmination is Taste Washington, a two-day event (March 29-30), at the Century Link Event Center, next to the Seahawks’ home field. It’s a challenge to take in the food, classes, wine, beer and more that are on hand from 200-plus wineries and vendors serving at the event, yet thousands sign up to try. There may be other reasons why this March is proving to be a popular time to head to Seattle but we know the top reason we want to go.
Los Cabos, Mexico
While Los Cabos is a popular destination all winter and spring, it’s a bit of a mecca in March. Its spring break scene is somewhat more subdued than Cancun but still quite hopping. And trading books for beers isn’t the only reason to go in March. Take your pick of the Carnival celebrations leading up to Ash Wednesday (March 5), the 11-day Fiesta de San Jose del Cabo (March 8-19) or Benito Juarez Day, a national holiday on March 21. The Los Cabos area is really two towns – the more wild Cabo San Lucas and the more mild San Jose del Cabos. Not surprisingly, the Fiesta de San Jose del Cabos celebrates the patron saint of the quieter corner of this resort area, adding the liveliness of music, dancing, rides and food to the experience.
Salt Lake City, Utah
2013 was a boom year for travel to Utah with reports of around a 10 percent increase in tourism business. Fresh off those numbers and with lots of snow on the state’s mountains, the local tourism office has been investing in drawing even more travelers for this ski season. New billboards in Los Angeles and New York (including ones that were at Penn Station over Super Bowl weekend) are reporting fresh snowfall totals. And ads touting the 11 resorts less than an hour from Salt Lake City International Airport have been a common sight during the Olympics. In a winter where the weather and the Olympics have skiing on the collective mind, Salt Lake City and the resorts look to be gathering attention just in time for the spring skiing season. It doesn’t hurt that this town has its own Olympic history.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
March is a transition month in Puerto Vallarta. The annual humpback whale migration is in its final (and warmest) month. The weather is warm and dry, which keeps the winter vacation crowd lingering even as the college spring break party is heating up. This part of Mexico is back on solid tourist footing, investing in new resorts and attracting visitors of all ages and for a range of activities. Puerto Vallarta is a prime example of a resort area that has something for everyone with high end resorts offering a calm retreat to family-friendly options to places where fun can be found — even on a student’s budget. Water sports, charming streets, beaches, bars and a welcoming attitude are there whether you visit in the great weather window of March or any other time of year.
Pirates, Yankees and strawberries…this odd confluence makes March prime time in the Tampa Bay area. Gasparilla is the swashbuckling version of Carnival that dates back 110 years. Kicking off in January, this tribute to the buccaneer Jose Gaspar offers a mix of events for families and adults. It kicks into high gear in March with an art festival (March 1-2), a music festival (March 8-9) and a film festival (March 19-23) as well as ongoing parties and pirate costumes. In between all the revelry, visitors can also get a jump on witnessing Derek Jeter’s final season. Steinbrenner Field, the spring training home of the Yankees, offers fans an early and up-close glimpse of the season to come. And finally, just east of Tampa in Plant City, the long-standing and hugely popular Florida Strawberry Festival will be in full swing. Having started in 1930, this event has grown to be 11 days (Feb. 27-March 9) of big name country music paired with a midway, parades, baking and craft contests, the crowing of the Queen and, of course, fresh strawberries plus pies, shortcakes, jams and more.
San Francisco, Calif.
What’s the spring allure of San Francisco? This town is always a popular destination, but it fills to capacity in the summer. Those headed there in March, however, may actually get better weather and certainly benefit from off-peak prices and crowds. If their timing is right, they also get to participate in one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebrations on the West Coast. The parade, green-glowing City Hall and extensive block parties are the headliners but there are also smaller scale festivals and events celebrating Irish music and dance as well as art, poetry and storytelling. While culture, fun and off-season appeal are all in play for March, we can’t ever overlook the draw of technology for this capital of innovation. With the Game Developers Conference and MacWorld both set to hit town the second half of March, there will be waves of attendees coming to see what’s next for game consoles, phones, tablets and more.
Spring begins to spring in March in Phoenix and that means rising temperatures, blooming deserts, art and music festivals and the return of baseball. With the average high temperature rising from 69 on March 1 to 77 on March 31, the weather window is great for those wanting to explore the Arizona mesas or try the world-class golf courses. Local event planners also know this is a golden window before the summer swelter starts to set in. Visitors can look forward to major events like the Phoenix Jazz Festival (March 7-9) and the Scottsdale Arts Festival (March 14-16) as well as local traditions like the Great Arizona Beer Festival (March 1) and the Desert Botanical Garden’s annual Agave on the Rocks margarita event (March 28). However, the biggest appeal may well be the return of the “boys of summer.” The Cactus League’s 15 Major League Baseball spring training clubs offer fans a full line-up of games all month long.
(Main image: tedmurphy)