Countdown to spring: Five places to visit on vacation or day trips

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Spring is coming and that means warm weather, which means the desire to go on vacation greatly increases. Many kids get a week of vacation during springtime (unless you've been subjected to this year's New England Nor'easter), so families will often pick it as a time to take a trip.

If you're currently planning a trip this spring, you know there are just so many options from which to choose, but here are five ideas to start off.

Cherry Blossom Festival - Washington, DC

Held yearly in Washington, DC, the festival commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry blossom trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo, Japan, and honors the relationship between the United States and Japan. After initially receiving a batch of diseased trees, new ones were sent and then-First Lady Helen Taft planted one of the first trees. The festival has been held every year since then, except during World War II.

The festival expanded to five weeks last year, giving visitors plenty of time to get involved with events happening during it, including the popular parade and Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival. And of course, the actual blooming of the trees themselves.

Visit the official website to learn more about all of the events happening during the Cherry Blossom Festival, including the major Signature Events.

Jazz and Heritage Festival - New Orleans, LA

The New Orleans Jazz Fest is an annual celebrations of the many things that make up New Orleans, LA, including jazz music and other regional music, Cajun and other Louisiana-based foods, and the city's unique culture and history.

Over time attendance has risen from a mere 350 people at the first festival to a high of 600,000 in 2001. The lineup of the event has also changed over the years, and now encompasses a variety of genres, including rock, R&B, hip hop, and country. This year the festival runs from April 26 to 28 and May 2 to 5.

Aside from the festival, New Orleans, with its combination of French, Spanish, and American influences, is itself a fantastic place to visit.

Yosemite National Park - California

If you live in, near, or can make it to California, and are looking for something a little more...nature-y...than the usual popular destinations of Los Angeles, San Diego, and other coastal areas, there is always Yosemite National Park. The area now preserved as Yosemite was sculpted by tectonic and glacial activity over millions of years. The area was first protected by the federal government in 1864, with President Abraham Lincoln signing a bill creating the Yosemite Grant. It was further protected in 1906 after President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill making the area a national park.

At 1,189 sq mi, it's about the size of Rhode Island, but most of its 3.5 million yearly visitors spend time in the seven square mile Yosemite Valley. Other popular areas include Glacial Point and Tuolumne Meadows. Yosemite usually has an entrance fee of $20 per car. However, the entrance fee is waved during National Park Week, which this year is April 22-26.

Can't make it to California? Not to worry, because there are 59 national parks in the United States. Although they're mostly concentrated in the western half of the country, there are some in the eastern half, too.

American Museum of Natural History - New York, NY

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City is a personal favorite of mine. This museum has exhibits that run the gamut of natural history topics, from rock and minerals, to dinosaurs and other fossils, to human history. Overall, the museum has 46 permanent exhibition halls and over 32 million specimens.

With over 5 million yearly visitors, it is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world. In addition to the Earth-based exhibits, it also includes a planetarium and space-based exhibits.

The museum was the brainchild of naturalist Dr. Albert S. Bickmore, who promoted the concept of the museum for years in the mid-1800s. Finally, in 1869, the museum was founded by a group of businessmen, politicians, and activists, including Theodore Roosevelt Sr. (father of the later president), J.P. Morgan, and Morris K. Jesup.

It's really easy to get to this museum from anywhere in the city, as it has its own subway stop at 81 St. on the B and C lines.

Freedom Trail and historical sites - Boston, MA

Another favorite of mine is the Freedom Trail and associated historical sites in Boston, MA. One of the most notable and popular attractions in Boston is the 2.5 mile-long Freedom Tail. The trail, prominently marked by a brick line over its entire length, contains 16 historically significant sites, including Boston Common, the Bunker Hill Monument, Faneuil Hall, and the site of the Boston Massacre. The trail provides both historical education and exercise.

A walking trail to connect the 16 historic sites was championed by columnist and editor William Schofield in 1951, and then-Mayor John Hynes adopted the idea into the organization. The distinctive red brick line was added to the trail in 1958. Attracting 40,000 visitors a year by 1954, the Freedom Trail now brings in over 3 million people.

Boston is also home to many other historical and important cultural sites including Quincy Market, the Boston Athenaeum, the Black Heritage Trail, the Liberty Tree, and many, many more. You can see a great selection them on this list of National Historical Landmarks.

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