Michelle Higgins, New York Times
March 13, 2011

Which means two things: You're overdue for a break, and it's not too late to plan one. Even if you just slip away for a weekend.

Want to be on the beach by midafternoon? There are new flights to Destin, Fla., and the Turks and Caicos that are ready to make that happen. Feeling the urge to hit the mountain before the snow melts? Heavy snowfall and spring rates as low as $99 a night are making resorts like Breckenridge, Colo., and Snowbird, Utah, good bargains. Or are poolside cocktails more your style? There are plenty of options in Palm Springs, Calif., where newly renovated hotels are showing off freshened digs.

So, here you go. Whether you want high desert landscapes, powdery slopes or pristine blue water, we've done all the heavy lifting for you. Here are 14 top-notch escapes that require fewer than four hours in either a car or a plane from more than a dozen major cities. Wherever you live, we've got you covered.

Breckenridge, Colo.

EASY GETAWAY FROM Denver; Kansas City, Mo.; Austin, Tex.; Dallas; Houston; Chicago; St. Louis; Minneapolis; Oklahoma City.

WHAT YOU GET Sunny powder days, apres-ski party scene, live music, beer and food festivals.

WHY GO NOW March and April are two of the snowiest months of the year at this four-peak Rocky Mountain resort, roughly 80 miles from Denver. By the end of February this year, 29 feet had fallen already, beating out the resort's traditional 25-foot average. Breckenridge stays open until April 24 this year -- a week longer than usual -- and hosts dozens of special events from the annual Beer Festival (April 9), featuring live music and more than 20 breweries from around the country, to the Bite of Breck food fest with discounts on eateries during the month of April. Springtime also brings special promotions like 40 percent off many condominiums and $99 hotel rates.

WHERE TO STAY The Great Divide Lodge (breckresorts.com/greatdividelodge) has some of the best rates in April, with Spring Fever deals as low as $99 a night. (For all destinations, rates are for weekends in March and April.) The nearby Mountain Thunder Lodge offers rates from $171 a night. And ResortQuest's River Mountain Lodge three blocks from the gondola has studios from $140 a night.

Destin, Fla.

EASY GETAWAY FROM Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Houston; Miami; Niagara Falls, N.Y.

WHAT YOU GET Emerald-green surf, Southern charm, family-friendly everything, dolphins frolicking offshore.

WHY NOW Even though its sugar-white beaches were largely unspoiled by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill last year, tourism came to a standstill at this laid-back resort town on Florida's upper northwest coast. While visitors are now on the upswing -- thanks in part to aggressive marketing efforts -- rates remain low with hotels offering discounts of as much as 20 percent, according to Mark Bellinger, chief executive of the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. ''There are a lot more package plans -- stay two nights, get the third night free,'' he said, and hotels are throwing in extras like golf or half a day of fishing to entice guests. Destin is also easier to get to thanks to Vision Airlines, a new low-fare carrier that will begin nonstop service March 25 to Northwest Florida Regional Airport from 13 markets including Little Rock, Ark., Louisville, Ky., and Asheville, N.C., with rates as low as $79 each way. It plans to add more routes by April 1.

WHERE TO STAY Jetty East Condominiums (jettyeast.net) is a beachfront condo-hotel with one-bedrooms from $137 a night on weekends in March and April. Sterling Shores condominiums (sterlingresorts.com) has a 4,300-square-foot lagoon-style pool, a 42-seat surround-sound theater and one-bedrooms from $169 a night. Looking for a more resort village feel? Eight miles east of Destin, the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort (sandestination.com), a 2,400-acre family resort, has two-bedroom villas from $139 a night if booked 21 days ahead.

Kiawah Island, S.C.

EASY GETAWAY FROM: Atlanta; Baltimore; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Detroit; Miami; Nashville; New York; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.

WHAT YOU GET A golfer's paradise, bike trails, several miles of beaches.

WHY NOW Average daytime temperatures are in the high 60s and low 70s, ideal weather for golf, tennis, biking, birding or strolls on the beach -- which is what this quiet barrier island about 20 miles south of Charleston, S.C., is all about. While much of the tiny resort community belongs to the private Kiawah Island Golf Resort, 11 miles of beach is open to the public at Beachwalker Park. If you don't want to stay at the resort, there are plenty of rentals available ranging from golf course condos to beachfront homes. Southwest Airlines began flights to Charleston this month from Baltimore, Chicago, Nashville and Houston.

WHERE TO STAY: The sprawling Kiawah Island Golf Resort (kiawahresort.com) is offering rates as low as $160 a night for one-bedrooms this spring. ResortQuest (resortquestkiawah.com) offers 250 rentals on the island with rates from $419 a night for an oceanfront villa. Homeaway.com has 444 listings on Kiawah Island, from one-bedroom condos starting at $95 a night to three-bedroom beach cottages from $300 a night.

Montreal, Quebec

EASY GETAWAY FROM New York; Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Chicago.

WHAT YOU GET French cuisine, an indie music scene, European flair.

WHY NOW Temperatures in this Quebec metropolis won't really warm up until May, but visiting at this time of year has its benefits. Hotel rates are as much as 50 percent off. Night life heats up as diversions turn indoors. There are also plenty of homey restaurants and cozy cafes. And if you really can't stand the weather, you can escape to the city's Underground pedestrian network: 20 miles of shops under the city streets. If you go, check out Tourisme Montreal's Sweet Dealpromotion, which runs through May 31 and offers 50 percent off a second night's stay, with nightly rates from $115 U.S.

Where to stay: Best Western Ville-Marie Hotel & Suites (hotelvillemarie.com), in the financial district, offers rooms with Wi-Fi from 109 Canadian dollars (about $114 U.S.) a night. The 24-room Le Petit Hotel (petithotelmontreal.com) in a former leather factory in the historic district, has rates from 159 dollars a night. The Le St.-Martin hotel (lestmartinmontreal.com), opened in June, has rooms from 195 dollars.

Negril, Jamaica

EASY GETAWAY FROM Atlanta; Baltimore; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; New York; Orlando; Miami.

WHAT YOU GET Easy snorkeling, live music, cliff diving and general laid-back island vibes.

WHY NOW Even though it is peak season, it's not hard to find an affordable hotel here, with choices ranging from all-inclusive mega-resorts to quiet boutique hotels perched on cliffs. Plenty of nonstop flights from the East Coast make this island easy to get to.

WHERE TO STAY The Rockhouse Hotel (rockhousehotel.com), perched atop a craggy outcropping with ladders and stairs leading down to the water, has standard rooms from $160 a night. The Samsara Hotel and Spa (negrilhotels.com), has an all-inclusive option from $90 a person based on two people sharing an air-conditioned ocean-view room. On Negril's Seven-Mile Beach, the all-inclusive Grand Pineapple Beach Negril (grandpineapple.com) offers rooms in colorful cottages from $284 a person a night; $75 a child 2 to 16.

Palm Springs, Calif.

EASY GETAWAY FROM Los Angeles; Denver; Salt Lake City; Seattle; San Francisco; Sacramento; Phoenix; Dallas; Portland, Ore.; Las Vegas.

WHAT YOU GET Midcentury modern glamour, a retro pool party scene, gay-friendly dance clubs, easy hiking.

WHY NOW Even after the economy took a nose dive, this desert town on the western edge of the Coachella Valley continued to freshen up its resort stock with more than $180 million in new construction and renovations that added 1,000 rooms over the past few years. While spring is a prime time to visit, with daytime temperatures in the mid-80s and special events that keep downtown hopping, like the annual Dinah Shore Weekend (March 30 to April 3, and billed as the largest lesbian event in the world), many hotels are still offering deals. Want to escape the party scene? Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to Mount San Jacinto State Park (at 8,516 feet), which offers more than 50 miles of hiking trails, some perhaps still holding snow.

WHERE TO STAY Tucked away on a residential street, the Kelly Wearstler-designed Viceroy Palm Springs (viceroypalmsprings.com) offers three pools, a spa and a nod to old Hollywood. Book the SoCal Sojourn for discounted rates starting at $210 a night, including two cocktails and a $50 credit for food or drinks. The Riviera Palm Springs (psriviera.com), with 406 guest rooms, two pools and gardens anchored by fire pits, just lowered its starting rates by $10 a night to $159. A short drive from downtown, the stylish Parker Palm Springs (theparkerpalmsprings.com), designed by Jonathan Adler, offers a Spa Junkies deal from $199 on Friday nights and $249 on Saturdays that includes a $200 credit on spa treatments.

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

EASY GETAWAY FROM New York; Newark; Atlanta; Miami.

WHAT YOU GET Sparkling blue waters, laid-back luxury, sun-soaked beaches.

WHY NOW Just last month, JetBlue began flying to Providenciales nonstop each day from Kennedy Airport in New York, which means three and a half hours between the late-winter grunge of Queens and some of the Caribbean's best beaches. (JetBlue is also flying once a week from Boston.) Continental also has new nonstop flights from Newark, which means travelers from the New York area can be on the beach by early afternoon. Because it is technically in the Atlantic, just below the Bahamas, this island chain (and its 80-something-degree days) may be the closest thing to the Caribbean you can get to that fast.

WHERE TO STAY La Vista Azul Resort (lvaresort.com), which opened last summer with 78 rooms with full kitchens, two rooftop swimming pools and Jacuzzis, is a short walk from the beach. Rates begin at $192.50 a night. The chic 91-room Gansevoort Turks + Caicos (gansevoorttc.com), on Grace Bay Beach, has a 7,000-square-foot infinity pool and rates from $440 a night with the three-night Big Blue package, including airport transfers, a breakfast buffet and scuba diving. For a splurge, each room at the all-suite Grace Bay Club (gracebayresorts.com), has ocean views from $980 a night.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

EASY GETAWAY FROM Los Angeles; San Diego; Phoenix; Denver; Houston.

WHAT YOU GET Miles of golden sand, sunsets on the Malecon, open-air dance clubs, whale watching.

WHY NOW Drug-related violence, concentrated mainly in the northern border region of Mexico, has cast a pall over the entire country and scared tourists away from popular Pacific coast resorts like Puerto Vallarta, which have remained safe for visitors. As a result, deals abound. ''We have special offers available even in our most luxurious accommodations,'' said Antonia Lavendar, director of commercialization for the Puerto Vallarta Convention and Visitors Bureau. If lounging poolside at an upscale hotel on the cheap, margarita in hand, isn't enough, there are galleries and boutiques along the Malecon promenade, cobblestone streets to explore in the colonial Old Town zone, zip-line canopy tours in the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains, and whale-watching trips just offshore.

WHERE TO STAY The 14-acre Westin Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa is offering rates as low as $129 a night -- a 20 percent discount. The Presidente InterContinental Resort dropped starting rates for its newly decorated oceanfront suites to $148 a night in March from $198 last year; in April, rates begin at $180. Villa del Palmar (villagroupresorts.com) offers 562 suites with balconies or terraces for as low as $85 a night with all-inclusive rates that begin at $211 per person per night for meals and many water sports.

San Antonio, Tex.

EASY GETAWAY FROM Atlanta;Charlotte; Chicago; Denver; Los Angeles; Memphis; Milwaukee; Nashville; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix; Salt Lake City; San Diego; Tampa, Fla.

WHAT YOU GET Spanish missions, Chicano art, Tex-Mex fare and Texas hospitality.

WHY NOW To commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo, the city is inaugurating a yearlong series of events and special promotions this month including hotel packages that offer discounts of up to 20 percent off room rates and extras like free breakfast or riverboat tickets. Mild spring temperatures are perfect for strolling along downtown's meandering River Walk, lined with restaurants and bars, or visiting the San Antonio Mission National Historic Park, featuring four well-preserved missions and hiking and biking trails. If that's not off the grid enough, head to nearby Hill Country for great barbecue and rolling landscapes budding with wildflowers.

WHERE TO STAY The Drury Plaza Hotel (druryhotels.com), right on the River Walk, offers flat-screen televisions, popcorn in the lobby and a rooftop pool with rates from $119 a night with the Remember the Alamo package. Near the Riverwalk and the Alamo, the Best Western Sunset Suites (bestwesternsunsetsuites.com) has rates from about $118 a night. Looking for luxury? The sprawling JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa (jwsanantonio.com), about 30 minutes from downtown, with six acres of heated pools, fountains and waterfalls, has rooms from $269 a night.

San Diego

EASY GETAWAY FROM Phoenix; Las Vegas; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Dallas; Denver; Salt Lake City; Tucson; Sacramento.

WHAT YOU GET Salty ocean breezes, lush public parks, downtown waterfront, family fun.

WHY NOW With business from conventions still off, California's second-largest city is looking to fill its varied hotels, restaurants and spas with leisure travelers, and many are offering hefty incentives, according to Adam Weissenberg, who heads Deloitte's United States Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure division. With miles of beaches, plenty of golf and family-oriented attractions, including the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld and Legoland, ''it's a great location and you can find good deals now,'' he said. Stroll along the Embarcadero, a 1.7-mile stretch of downtown waterfront. Explore the city's historic Gaslamp Quarter -- 16 and a half blocks of restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, shops and art galleries. Or head to Balboa Park (balboapark.org), the 1,200-acre public park that is home to the Old Globe Theater, the zoo and 15 major museums.

WHERE TO STAY The Pearl Hotel (thepearlsd.com), in the seaside Point Loma section, is offering a two-night stay for as low as $249 total when travelers book the Two Night Delight, which includes a $100 gift certificate for its restaurant. The beachfront Catamaran Resort Hotel (catamaranresort.com) is offering a second night free this spring with rates from $149 a night. For families, the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina (starwoodhotels.com) has a Break With the Family deal from $199 a night, including a balcony room, four zoo passes, bicycle rentals and an in-room movie each night.

Santa Fe, N.M.

EASY GETAWAY FROM Los Angeles; Dallas; Denver; Houston; Kansas City, Mo.; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; Seattle; St. Louis; Las Vegas; Phoenix; San Diego; Tucson.

WHAT YOU GET Romantic fireside nooks, art galleries, beautiful landscapes, rejuvenating spas, steamy hot springs.

WHY NOW March is off-season in this high desert city about an hour north of Albuquerque's airport, which means lower hotel rates and no crowds at the city's many Native American museums, restaurants, spas and some 250 galleries. With average high temperatures of 55 degrees and lows of 28, March is still a great time for spring skiing in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains just 16 miles from the heart of the city, sipping hot chocolate by a kiva fireplace or getting in touch with your inner artist through a class in painting, pottery or photography. As the thermometer rises in April, the streets become more lively, the farmers' market moves outdoors, there are concerts, plays and dance performances and Friday-night gallery openings pick up. Take in the city's adobe-style architecture on a historical walking tour, visit an American Indian pueblo north of Santa Fe or soak in one of the surrounding area's mineral hot springs.

WHERE TO STAY Inn on the Alameda (innonthealameda.com), located between the Santa Fe Plaza and Canyon Road art galleries, has 71 rooms from $170 a night and offers a three-night Taste the City Different package starting at $792 for two guests, which includes cooking classes, demonstrations and a culinary walking tour for specific dates through April 30. The Southwestern-style Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi (innoftheanasazi.com) offers 58 rooms from $237 a night or $299 a night with the third night free if you book the Experience More deal. La Posada de Santa Fe (laposada.rockresorts.com), with a spa and its own art gallery, has rooms from $185 a night. Book the Savor Santa Fe package and get a $40 breakfast voucher and a $50 credit for a massage or facial.

Snowbird, Utah

EASY GETAWAY FROM Las Vegas; Denver; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; Seattle.

WHAT YOU GET Fresh powder, live music, no crowds.

WHY NOW An annual snowfall average of 500 inches ensures a long season, keeping the entire mountain open well into spring. March is typically tied with February for the snowiest month, but April still gets plenty, and rates drop significantly. In April, for example, Snowbird is offering a Spring Stay and Ski package from $99 a person a night with a three-night stay. A scenic 45-minute drive from Salt Lake City International Airport makes same-day skiing and flying a reality from many major cities, and live music every weekend from end of March through April keeps skiers grooving.

WHERE TO STAY The Cliff Lodge (snowbird.com), with rates from $129 in April, has a newly renovated spa with a rooftop pool and hot tub and is Snowbird's only ski-in, ski-out property. The Lodge at Snowbird has efficiencies from $119. A North Studio in the Inn at Snowbird offers rooms with kitchens and fireplaces as low as $99 a night in April.

Stowe, Vt.

EASY GETAWAY FROM Boston; Albany; New York; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Cleveland; Detroit.

WHAT YOU GET Winter sports, farm-to-table dining, New England charm.

WHY GO NOW Softer snow and warmer temperatures at this time of year make skiing, snowshoeing, dog-sledding, sleigh riding and other winter sports more fun. Stowe's Spruce Peak and Mount Mansfield (Vermont's highest peak at 4,395 feet) remain open through April 17. And with a 200-year-old village full of shops, restaurants and cozy pubs, there is still plenty to do after the slopes close. Spring is sugaring season in Vermont, when trees are tapped and sap is collected for making syrup. There is also a new performing arts center and nearby Vermont landmarks like Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream plant, providing options for everyone in the family. The nearest major airport is in Burlington, Vt., about an hour west of Stowe.

WHERE TO STAY Stowe Mountain Lodge (stowemountainlodge.com), adjacent to the gondola connecting Spruce Peak to Mount Mansfield, has rates from $199 and is offering 20 percent off for two-night stays and 30 percent off for three nights through April 30. The Trapp Family Lodge (trappfamily.com), run by descendants of the Trapp family of ''Sound of Music'' fame, has a Making Tracks Snowshoe package with rates from $399 a person for two-night stays through March 27 that includes three-course dinners, and guided snowshoe treks. On Main Street, the Green Mountain Inn (greenmountaininn.com) offers rooms for as low as $99 in April.

Tucson, Ariz.

EASY GETAWAY FROM Albuquerque; San Diego; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Seattle; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Salt Lake City; Denver.

WHAT YOU GET Sunny days, starry desert nights, P.G.A. golf courses, pampering spas.

WHY NOW The Sonoran Desert usually begins to bloom in late April, a bonus when hiking in Sabino Canyon, mountain biking on the Arizona Trail or saddling up at a dude ranch. It is high season, but there are ways to skirt even the steepest rates. Not willing to shell out $3,000 for three nights at Canyon Ranch? Pay $300 for a Spa Day that includes one $130 treatment, lunch and all classes. Or check out the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa, which is offering an Indulge Yourself deal from $260 a night that includes accommodations, a $120 spa credit and a $10 spa gift card.

WHERE TO STAY The 398-room Loews Ventana Canyon (loewshotels.com), with two P.G.A. golf courses and a 7,000-square-foot spa is offering 20 percent off starting rates of $249 a night if you stay three nights and book the Loews Long Weekend deal. The Westin La Paloma (westinlapalomaresort.com), set on 250 acres with a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course and five pools, has rates from $249 in April. The Embassy Suites Tucson Paloma Village (embassysuites.com) offers a family fun package with an in-room movie and four tickets to Sabino Canyon from $170 to $270.

Copyright © 2011 The New York Times Company

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