From Palm Springs to D.C., we’ve rounded up 12 convenient Memorial Day escapes from coast to coast to ensure that you spend more time enjoying your blues festival (or pool party) than you do deciding where to go.
Thinking about taking a break for Memorial Day? Now is the time to start planning. To point you in the right direction, we looked for celebrations across America that offered something special in honor of the Memorial Day holiday, be it a unique patriotic tribute, a celeb-worthy pool party, an epic blues festival, or a vineyard tour. But reading about a party that’s taking place miles and miles from home is frustrating, not fun. That’s why we highlighted places that are easily accessible no matter where you are in the U.S. (all of the cities called out under "easy getaway" are within either a 1.5-hour flight or four-hour drive from the featured destination). Consider this your ultimate guide to three-day weekend bliss.
While most beach seasons are just beginning, Memorial Day marks the end of bearable temps in the desert, so hotels and operators are running specials for the holiday. Though other parts of California will be in the midst of "May Gray" and "June Gloom," Palm Springs still has nonstop sunshine—plus dozens of vintage shops, acclaimed restaurants such as Copley’s on Palm Canyon (where celebrity chef Andrew Copley whips up So Cal comfort food like lobster pot pie) and an enduring love for all things mid-century (its hotels and private homes offer some of the best examples of 1950s modern architecture in the country). It also makes a great base camp for exploring the striking desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park through hikes, mountain biking, or rock climbing—don’t miss a scenic ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, one of Budget Travel’s most beautiful cable car rides. Stick around for the Flower Drop & Air Fair, hosted by the Palm Springs Air Museum, where more than 3,000 red and white carnations are dropped form a B-25 Mitchell bomber in honor of all who those who have given their lives for our freedom—visitors are invited to take flowers home following the 1 p.m. drop. Military members should check out the R&R package from the South Coast Winery Resort & Spa that includes overnight accommodations, mimosa breakfast for two, a wine tasting for two, and other perks (from $199 a night for Sunday thru Thursday stays; from $299 a night for Friday and Saturday stays; call 866-994-6379 to book and mention the R&R Package).
EASY GETAWAY FROM Los Angeles; San Francisco; Phoenix; Las Vegas.
As you might guess, Washington D.C. is the most patriotic place to celebrate the holiday, with a parade and plenty of pomp and circumstance taking place during special military ceremonies. Arlington National Cemetery—which celebrated its 150th anniversary this May—hosts a wreath-laying ceremony at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day at the Tomb of the Unknowns accompanied by performances from the U.S. Navy Band. Men in uniform also march in the National Memorial Day Parade along the National Mall at 2 p.m. Don’t miss the National Memorial Day Concert Sunday, May 25, on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., an event that is televised on PBS each year.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Baltimore; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Hartford, CT; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville; New York City; Providence.
Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas is one of the busiest times of the year, along with New Year’s Eve. Parties held around the resorts’ elaborate pools are the big event, and become daylight nightclubs with DJs, drink carts, bottle service, cabanas, and more. To get in on the action, grab a chaise at the Venus Pool Club at Caesars Palace (ladies always get in free, while admission is free for men on Thursday, with reduced rates before 2 p.m. Friday thru Sunday) or stop by the swanky Tropicana Pool at The Tropicana Las Vegas—admission is free for hotel guests and just $10 for non-guests, so don’t miss out! Feeling gutsy? Take a spin on The High Roller at Caesars Palace, a giant Ferris wheel similar to The London Eye, sure to give you the best views in Vegas (daytime tickets from $14.95 per person; nighttime tickets from $24.95 per person).
EASY GETAWAY FROM Los Angeles; San Francisco.
This year, Chesterfield Ampitheater will host the Bluesweek Festival Saturday and Sunday, with performances by musicians including blues legend Otis Clay—admission to the Festival Zone and Bunge BBQ Blast is free; tickets to the ampitheater shows are $10 when ordered online, $15 when purchased the day of the show. If all that music whets your appetite, head to the Schlafly Tap Room on Saturday, May 24, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for Pork Shop, a combination community garage sale and neighborhood bar-b-que, featuring local pork and plenty of Schlafly beer. You’ll need all this fuel to tackle the largest flea market in the Midwest, Gypsy Caravan, an annual Memorial Day event organized for the 42nd year by the St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association. General admission between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. is $10; Early Bird tickets for early access to sales between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. are $20; a special ticket that includes access the night before and all day admission on Memorial Day is available for $30.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Chicago; Cincinnati; Kansas City, MO.; Memphis.
Contrary to popular belief, Atlantic City was not hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and was actually back on its feet within a week of the storm—in fact the area still continues to bounce back post-Sandy with new openings and events along its iconic stretch of New Jersey coastline. Steel Pier, Atlantic City’s popular oceanside amusement park, debuted eight new rides last summer. Don’t miss Duality, a free 3-D light show featuring catchy music and summer fun-filled images against the façade of Boardwalk Hall every half hour now thru June 20th starting at 8:30 p.m. The best part: you can score a great hotel deal now through June 30th as part of Atlantic City’s Hello Summer promotion. Outside Atlantic City, check out the 29th annual Wildwoods International Kite Festival, the largest in North America, Friday thru Monday, an event that starts Friday night with a beachfront illuminated night kite fly on Rio Grande Avenue. There’s also a Boardwalk Craft Show Saturday and Sunday, a free concert on Sunday, and on a more solemn note, several Memorial Day rememberance services, including a candlelight vigil on Saturday at 8 p.m. at Wildwood Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Fox Park and a ceremony on Monday at 10 a.m. at the North Wildwood Veterans Monument located at Spruce and New York Avenues. Visit the New Jersey Going Strong website for more information on events throughout the Jersey Shore.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Philadelphia; New York City; Baltimore; Washington D.C.
Head to Lake Travis to soak up some of Austin’s best weather of the year, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the eighties. Memorial Day kicks off boating season here, so the place to be is the lake. To get in on the action, check out Austin’s REI store’s schedule of events to find out what classes and events are on offer this weekend or rent a ski boat at Just for Fun ($75 for one hour). If you’d rather be a spectator, catch a glimpse of the Capital of Texas Triathalon on Memorial Day, an event founded in 1991 that brings in 3,000 participants annually. Things get started with a swim at Lady Bird Lake before athletes break out the bikes for a race through Austin, leading up to a foot race around the southern part of the lake.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Atlanta; Dallas.
One of the earliest observances of Memorial Day was by a group of freed slaves and took place weeks after the Civil War ended in 1865 in Charleston’s Hampton Park. Today, the world-renowned Spoleto Festival starts its two-week run this weekend—this year from May 23rd thru June 8th—filling the historic city’s theaters, churches, and outdoor spaces with opera, theater, jazz, symphonies, choruses, and visual arts. Highlights this year include performances by the Westminster Choir, singer-songwriter Kat Edmonson, and a theater production of My Cousin Rachel among other events. Tickets can be purchased on a per-event basis, with prices ranging from $10 to $130.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; Washington, D.C.
Over Memorial Day weekend, more than 30 wineries and tasting rooms in the scenic Columbia Gorge area of Oregon, which borders Washington State to the north, will be holding open houses featuring such events as barrel tastings and special releases. Maryhill Winery (on the Washington side) toasts its 13th anniversary with live music, and tasting specials among other events. Outdoors, there are tournament-quality bocce ball courts, an amphitheater, and a vine-covered arbor terrace, all with sweeping views of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Portland, Ore.; Seattle; San Francisco.
Fine art and pop culture descend on the Rockies over Memorial Day weekend. The Downtown Denver Arts Festival kicks off its 16th year on Friday, May 23, hosting more than 135 local artists from all over the state. The free festival lasts all weekend at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, and everything from 3D mixed media to jewelry to photography will be featured. If live music is more your style, try the Denver Day of Rock starting Friday night from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Skyline Park and all day on Saturday, when more than 20 bands—including The Wallflowers and The Plain White T’s among others—treat audiences to a series of free concerts from 2:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. along the 16th Street Mall. Best of all, the concerts benefit Concerts for Kids and Food Bank of the Rockies, two local organizations dedicated to fighting child hunger—everyone is asked to bring canned food to drop off at designated spots around the venue.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Salt Lake City; Albuquerque; Las Vegas; Kansas City, M.O.; Phoenix; Dallas; Minneapolis.
After a brief hiatus last year, Fleet Week is BACK! From May 21st thru the 27th, you’ll be able to see military band concerts, aerial demonstrations by the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps, and search and rescue demonstrations by the U.S. Coast Guard. You’ll also be able to tour the ships at Pier 92 in Manhattan and at The Sullivans Pier in Staten Island between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday thru Monday. Catch a free musical performance by the New York Philharmonic at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, one of Budget Travel’s most beautiful churches in America—tickets for the 8 p.m. show are free and available on a first-come first-served basis starting at 6 p.m. on May 26. Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery also offers a free Memorial Day concert at 2:30 p.m. highlighting the works of some of its most famous residents like Leonard Bernstein among others. Families will want to catch the Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade, a tradition in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn since 1867. All Veterans, regardless of age or war, are invited to participate. The parade starts at 11 A.M., runs along 3rd Avenue towards Marine Avenue, and continues to 4th Ave. before making its way to John Paul Jones Park for a ceremony in honor of those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Baltimore, M.D.; Providence, R.I.
The Atlanta Jazz Festival turns 37 this year and fills the Piedmont Park area with music from May 23 thru 25. Known for being one of the largest free jazz festivals in the country—it typically brings in 225,000 attendees over the three-day weekend—in past years the festival has featured performers like Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, and Shirley Horn as well as local artists. Kid-friendly activities like face painting and balloon art take place by the playground near the stage, while the live music plays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday thru Sunday. Getting to the festival is easy—free Lanier shuttles are available from nearby MARTA stations directly to Piedmont park, or you can use UBER: enter promo code JazzATL for $25 off if it’s your first ride with this revolutionary new car company. For more family fun, take the kids to Stone Mountain Park, a 35-minute drive from Atlanta, for some kid-friendly outdoor activities such as the "Sky Hike," a ropes-and-ladders obstacle course through the treetops. In honor of Memorial Day, the park is hosting evening fireworks, free concerts, and a laser show from Saturday through Monday (The Adventure Pass Meal Deal, which includes a free meal with admission, costs $29.95 for those over age 12, and $24.95 for children ages 3-11). As a special thank you, all active and retired military members receive one free adventure pass with a valid ID and can save up to $10 per immediate family member, as well as a 20 percent discount on food and merchandise inside the park. Fans of AMC’s hit show, The Walking Dead, will love the Zombie Run on May 24th, a 3.1-mile obstacle course at Durhamtown Plantation that participants (who register as either humans or zombies) must conquer over the course of the day. Register online or watch the festivities as a spectator on the sidelines. Proceeds from the run benefit children fighting brain injuries and disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Savannah; Charleston, S.C.; New Orleans; Nashville; Charlotte, N.C.; Orlando.
Even fun-loving Vegas can’t quite compete with the blow-out bash that takes place in Miami over Memorial Day weekend. Each year roughly 250,000 party-goers descend on the area for a booze-soaked bacchanalia full of music, dancing, and lots and lots of skin. Clubs around town host special Memorial Day kick-off parties, but the event everyone looks forward to is the Best of the Best Concert on Sunday, May 25—a 10-hour long music extravaganza starting at 2 p.m. in downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park (general admission tickets start at $54 per person). Of course, the point of the weekend is to honor our veterans, and Miami does so in style with the March of Colors, a parade that starts with a 21-gun salute at All Wars Memorial Park at 10 a.m. and then traverses the Snake Creek Canal Bridge. There is also a wreath laying ceremony on Monday, May 26 at 10:30 a.m. in front of the Miami Beach Police Headquarters.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Orlando; Key West, Fla.; Savannah; Charleston, S.C.; New Orleans; Atlanta.
See More From Budget Travel:45 Best Mother-Daughter Getaways!10 Things Europeans Say About You Behind Your BackThe Ultimate (Affordable!) Tropical Vacation10 Best Budget Destinations for 2014Secrets of Hawaii’s Big Island!