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 did mark the onset of the season. Of course, it helps that it’s the first warm long weekend in months, which means barbecues in the back yard, al fresco concerts, picnics in the park, hitting the links — you name it, so long as it’s outdoors! Our 10 best picks for a Memorial Day getaway won’t require extensive travel — or, an extensive budget, for that matter — but will definitely help you have a most memorable weekend.
1. Austin, Texas
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 manages to offer not just the Lone Star State’s best cultural offerings, but also the finest in all of the Southwest. Indeed, the city has numerous galleries, museums, and music venues (more than 100 in all!) but maintains an appealing small-town feel. 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 away; what’s more, 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.
While often touted as a Caribbean island, Bermuda is actually an Atlantic one, with a location that’s closer to Washington, D.C. than it is to points 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, splendid pink-sand beaches, and endearing pastel-colored houses, Bermuda makes a terrific Memorial Day beach getaway — if you can afford the price tag. Indeed, it’s one of the priciest islands to visit, but, at a mere 2.5 hour plane ride from NYC, Bermuda is a quick-and-easy way to get a solid dollop of British culture (with some very unBritish beach time) without having to cross the pond to get it.
3. Charleston, S.C.
Where better to pay remembrance 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 wonderfully preserved architectural remnants, like plantations and stately homes, hundreds of which were built prior to 1850 — 70 alone date back to the pre-Revolutionary War era. You can even hire a horse-and-carriage for a tour of the historic cityscape via the cobblestone streets! This unique feel of days of yore, coupled with the legendary hospitality of the South, makes Charleston a great bet for a Memorial Day getaway.
4. Chicago, Ill.
Hold onto your hats — and head 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, housing 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 from under a spectacular display of Memorial Day fireworks at the Navy Pier, where an explosive festival of sound and color unfolds on Saturday night. By day, it’s also prime time to catch some action at famous Wrigley Field, the country’s second-oldest ballpark — the Cubs usually play at home over this long weekend.
5. Hilton Head, S.C.
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 splendorous natural beauty of unspoiled marshlands, pristine beaches, dense woodlands, and flowering 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 holiday getaway.
6. New York, N.Y.
Some cities commemorate the weekend with fireworks, others with concerts, but New York does it with Fleet Week, an annual event that brings hundreds of sailors and Marines to the city to participate in parades — and to show off their classy white uniforms on Manhattan’s avenues. While seeing these men and women in uniform is reason enough to visit over Memorial Day, other pleasures are also to be had, from the greenery of Central Park — just the place to have your first summer picnic — and al fresco activities like sidewalk dining, street fairs, rooftop drinks, and river cruises, many with spectacular city vistas. And, if you’re a first-time visitor, standing at the feet of Lady Liberty or seeing the Empire State Building lit up in red, white, and blue are just the things to make you feel patriotic.
7. Palm Springs, Calif.
A desert oasis with a glamorous past, Palm Springs has been attracting Hollywood glitterati for decades. In its heyday, this California hotspot was a playground for the stars, touting glitzy resorts and leisurely pursuits like golf, swimming, and tennis. Today, you no longer have to be rich and famous to enjoy its abundant greens and posh resorts, which has made the Springs more accessible to everyone. 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, however, this desert outpost tends to heat up in summer months, so a Memorial Day getaway reigns supreme, as it’s one of your last chances to enjoy Palm Springs' lush offerings with equally lush weather.
8. Quebec City, Canada
With its cobblestoned 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 jetlag. This French city by the majestic St. Lawrence River won’t disappoint, either — you’ll easily be able to pretend you’re in a small European city by exploring the city’s 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 Chateau Frontenac, and order a martini — try the hotel’s signature Winston Churchill, F.D. Roosevelt, or Maurice Duplessis varieties — while overlooking the river. Fantastique!
9. Washington D.C.
With its plethora of monuments commemorating our countrymen’s historical service and sacrifices, there’s no more memorable Memorial Day setting 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 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. 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 Memorial Day Concert, complete with celebrity emcees and the National Symphony Orchestra, on the Capitol's West Lawn.
10. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is just about as American as apple pie. Designated as the nation’s very first national park in 1872, this vast preserve of wilderness and wildlife is the perfect place to celebrate Memorial Day weekend. The park’s surreal natural landscapes, which stretch across the state lines of Montana and Wyoming, have drawn a continuous stream of admirers since Native American days. It’s no wonder — long plateaus gloriously unfold between verdant, forested mountains, more than 300 steam-spewing geysers meet with 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 (just be sure to bring a jacket, just in case).
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