Even though summer doesn’t officially start until a month or so after the Memorial Day weekend, most of us treat this three-day holiday as if it marks the onset of the season. Of course, it helps that it’s often the first warm long weekend in months, which means backyard barbecues, alfresco concerts, picnics in the park, hitting the links – you name it, so long as it’s outdoors! Our top 10 Memorial Day getaways won’t require extensive travel – or, an extensive budget, for that matter – but will definitely help you have a most memorable weekend.
Related: 12 Easy Labor Day Escapes
Austin has made a name for itself that extends far outside of Texas. Largely enriched by the dynamic energy of the homegrown University of Texas, this up-and-coming city offers not only the Lone Star State’s best cultural sites, but some of the finest in the Southwest. The city has numerous galleries, museums, and music venues (the latter number nearly 200 in all!), but maintains an appealing Southern flair. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, you could easily visit this Texan capital any time. But, we particularly like it for a relaxed, cultural-filled, Memorial Day Weekend; what’s more, if you make a week of it, you’ll be able to see Austinites racing up and down historic Congress Avenue as part of the weekend’s annual Capital of Texas Triathlon (May 27).
While often touted as a Caribbean island, Bermuda is actually an Atlantic one, with a location that’s closer to Washington, D.C. than to tropical points further south. As a result, like much of the northern United States, this balmy British isle is only kicking into high-season now – while other islands of its ilk are becoming too hot to bear. With its fantastic golf, gorgeous bougainvillea, pink-sand beaches, and pastel-colored houses, Bermuda makes a terrific Memorial Day escape on the beach – if you can afford the price tag. It’s one of the priciest islands to visit, but, at a mere 2-hour plane ride from NYC, Bermuda is a quick-and-easy way to get a dollop of British culture (with some very un-British beach time) without having to cross the pond.
Charleston, South Carolina
Where better to pay tribute to fallen heroes and days gone by than in the history-rich capital of the Old South – Charleston, South Carolina? Saturated with history, this colorful city’s streets are lined with well-preserved architectural remnants such as plantations and stately homes – hundreds were built prior to 1850, with 70 dating back to the pre-Revolutionary War era. You can even hire a horse-and-carriage for a tour of the along the city’s cobblestone streets. The unique feel of days of yore, coupled with the legendary hospitality of the South, makes Charleston a great bet for Memorial Day.
Head off to the fast-paced and ultra-cool Windy City, where your first glimpse of the dramatic city skyline is just a harbinger of monumental buildings to come. Architectural gems abound in this lakefront city; renowned museums, dynamic theaters, first-rate restaurants, and bars and music venues that spill over with the sounds of blues and jazz. Enjoy the urban montage while taking in the city's Memorial Day Parade on the 25th, and try and nab tickets for a Cubs' home game at Wrigley Field or a White Sox game at U.S. Cellular Field.
Hilton Head, South Carolina
May is an ideal time to visit Hilton Head Island, what with near-perfect weather, burgeoning apple blossoms, and an annual art-and-cultural festival, BRAVO, in full swing by month’s end. What’s more, this island off the coast of South Carolina is known for its natural beauty of unspoiled marshlands, beaches, woodlands, and meadows. While sun worshipers can bask on warm shores, superb golf courses provide havens for golfers, and seafarers find solace in picturesque marinas and harbors. The island’s other charms include world-class resorts, historic plantations, succulent seafood, and upscale shops – making Hilton Head a hard-to-resist Memorial Day trip.
New York City
Although Fleet Week has been canceled due to the sequester this year, there are plenty of other NYC pleasures to be had. From the greenery in Central Park – just the place for an early-summer picnic – to alfresco sidewalk dining, street fairs, rooftop drinks, and river cruises, The Big Apple has plenty to offer this summer. If you’re a first-time visitor, get your dose of patriotism standing at the feet of Lady Liberty, or seeing the Empire State Building lit up in red, white, and blue. You may also choose to spend a day at the Intrepid Museum, set on a retired aircraft carrier at Pier 86. During its Summer Salute to the Heroes, which runs from May - September, enjoy live performances, movie screenings, panel discussions, and hands-on activities for all ages. Highlights of the museum itself include a helicopter from World War II, and the Interpid Museum's piece de resistance, the Space Shuttle Enterprise -- a NASA prototype from 1977.
Palm Springs, California
A desert oasis with a glamorous past, Palm Springs has been attracting Hollywood glitterati for decades. In its heyday, this California hot spot was a playground for the stars, touting glitzy resorts and leisurely pursuits like golf, swimming, and tennis. Today, you don’t have to be rich and famous to enjoy the abundant greens and posh resorts. There’s more than just swanky pastimes here, though, and nature buffs can easily spend their time enjoying desert vistas, canyon tours, and hikes. As expected, this desert outpost tends to heat up in summer months, so Memorial Day vacations reign supreme, as they're one of your last chances to enjoy Palm Springs' lush offerings with equally lush weather.
With its cobblestone streets, quaint 17th-century houses, stone fortifications, and French language, Quebec City is about as far away as one can get for a three-day weekend without having to deal with jet lag. The French-inspired Canadian city by the majestic St. Lawrence River won’t disappoint. You’ll easily be able to pretend you’re in a small European capital by exploring its magnificent architecture in Basse Ville (Lower Town), dining at fine French restaurants, and sipping a café au lait at a sidewalk café. If things get chilly, head indoors to the magnificent St. Laurent Bar & Lounge at the imposing Château Frontenac, and order a martini – try the hotel’s signature Winston Churchill, F.D. Roosevelt, or Maurice Duplessis varieties – while overlooking the river. Fantastique!
With an abundance of monuments commemorating our countrymen’s historical service and sacrifices, there’s no more memorable Memorial Day getaway than Washington, D.C. Make the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery your first stop, where a morning wreath-laying ceremony pays tribute to the unidentified soldiers interred here. Next up, catch the National Memorial Day Parade of veterans, military units, floats, balloons, and marching bands as it makes its way from the National Mall to the White House (May 27). A slew of additional afternoon ceremonies are held at the Vietnam Veterans, U.S. Navy, and World War II memorials, often capped by a mournful rendition of "Taps." You can even kick off the holiday the night before by attending the annual free National Memorial Day Concert, complete with celebrity emcees and the National Symphony Orchestra, on the Capitol's West Lawn.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is just about as American as apple pie. Designated as the nation’s first national park in 1872, this vast preserve of wilderness and wildlife is the perfect place to enjoy a Memorial Day getaway. The park’s surreal natural landscapes, which stretch across the state lines of Montana and Wyoming, are marked by long plateaus that unfold between verdant, forested mountains. More than 300 steam-spewing geysers, 300-foot towering waterfalls, and an immense gorge known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (not to be confused with the Grand Canyon) join up here for a dizzying compilation of natural wonders. Aside from the grizzlies, elk, and otters that call the park home, perhaps Yellowstone’s most famous resident is Old Faithful, a steam-spewing geyser that predictably erupts every 90 minutes or so. Note that temperatures are famously variable in the park, but they’re likely to be in the comfortable 60s on a late May day (be sure to bring a jacket, just in case).