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 rib-off, 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 guide to three-day weekend bliss.
Palm Springs, Calif.: For guaranteed summer weather
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND 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 through hikes, mountain biking, or rock climbing.
WHERE TO STAY Book one of the 155 pet-friendly rooms, with pool or mountain views and breakfast included, at the newly renovated Palm Springs Travelodge. Call and mention "Budget Travel" for 20 percent off bookings over the weekend. From $115 per night, palmcanyonhotel.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Los Angeles; San Francisco; Phoenix; Las Vegas.
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND As you might guess, 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. On Sunday, the National Memorial Day Concert is held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Then on Memorial Day, several historic sites and monuments will be paying tribute to soldiers. At Arlington National Cemetery, soldiers put flags before each gravestone, a wreath-laying ceremony happens at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the U.S. Marine Band performs a military concert. Men in uniform also march in the National Memorial Day Parade along the National Mall.
WHERE TO STAY Kimpton Hotels is running a Memorial Day weekend special in three of its hip properties. Check in Thursday or Friday and stay for three nights for the $120 a night rate at the Helix, $130 per night at the Rouge, or $140 a night at Topaz, all in northwest D.C. near The White House, when you mention booking code "PMEM" (that's over 25 percent savings off of normal rates). From $120 per night over Memorial Day weekend, kimptonhotels.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Albany, N.Y.; Baltimore; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Hartford; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville; New York; Providence.
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas is its 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 or the Rehab Pool Party at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (if you're a guest, there is no cover charge for hunkering down poolside, but most properties have food-and-drink minimums, which vary according to day and time; Caesars Palace is one of the few properties that allows non-guests to enjoy the party for a $20 cover charge).
WHERE TO STAY The Tropicana Las Vegas has a new water lounge as of May 26. The South Beach–themed pool club, which was made over to the tune of $180 million, is modeled after the original Nikki Beach club in Miami. From $130 per night, troplv.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Los Angeles.
Saint Louis: For comfort food and the ultimate treasure hunt
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND Teams from across the country gather for an epic "rib-off" during the Rib America Festival at Soldier's Memorial Park Friday, May 27, to Monday, May 30. Admission is free before 5 p.m. Friday or 1 p.m. Saturday through Monday; after that tickets cost $7. And if that's not enough 'cue, head to the Brew and Q World Pork Steak Championships at Schlafly Bottleworks brewery on Friday and Saturday, where amateurs battle for best BBQ and pork steak to the sounds of local bands (winners take home $500 and title of "World Pork Steak Champion"). 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 39th year by the St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association.
WHERE TO STAY Downtown, the 179-room Roberts Mayfair Hotel has a rooftop pool and emerged from a $9 million makeover in March 2011. You can get the MetroLink light rail two blocks from the hotel, which will take you to Soldiers Memorial and other downtown sites. From $107 a night, wyndham.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Chicago; Cincinnati; Kansas City, MO.; Memphis.
Portsmouth, N.H.: For seaside New England charm
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND Portsmouth keeps popping up on lists of cool, small towns, and Memorial Day weekend, when locals and visitors alike come out en force to honor our veterans, is a great time to explore the area. Sitting at the northern point of New Hampshire's brief coastline, the 17th-century seaport here is one of the oldest in America and hosts nautical festivities such as the weekend's annual tall ships festival (Sail Portsmouth). The U.S. Navy also conducts a ceremony at the USS , a World War II–era submarine set in a park honoring those lost in deep-sea battles.
WHERE TO STAY The Ale House Inn, a 130-year-old former brewery, sits right downtown at Market Square. Its 10 contemporary rooms come with complimentary in-room iPads. From $139 per night, alehouseinn.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Boston; Hartford; Portland, Maine; Providence.
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND 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). When you've had your fill of watersports, head downtown to sample some Lone Star State wine, beer, and music at the Austin Wine & Music Festival, May 28 and 29th, when 27 of the state's 215 wineries offer tastings.
WHERE TO STAY The Mansion at Judges' Hill is a reasonably priced, 48-room boutique hotel. Plus, the turn-of-the-century property is walking distance from downtown. From $129 per night, mansionatjudgeshill.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Atlanta; Dallas.
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND The Hatteras Kite Expo, which takes place over Memorial Day weekend, offers something for kiteboarders and stand-up paddle boarders of all levels. Give these fast-growing water sports a try in Hatteras, one of a narrow string of barrier islands between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, which has consistent winds, miles of launchable areas, and shallow waters—an ideal spot for beginners. You can take a lesson with Real Watersports (from $100 for a beginner group), which has a permit to access undeveloped beaches in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Or rent a surfboard for $20 a day from Real and head to the S-Turns surf break on Highway 12 in Rodanthe. But there is no need to strain your self: Beach bums can watch the expos from the comfort of a lounge chair or simply enjoy the soft, sandy beaches with nary a high-rise in sight.
WHERE TO STAY Waves Village, a year-old kiteboarding resort in Hatteras, has nine 3-bedroom condos. From $139 per night,wavesvillage.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Raleigh, N.C.
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND 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, filling the historic city's theaters, churches, and outdoor spaces with opera, theater, jazz, symphonies, choruses, and visual arts. Highlights this year include the Mozart opera The Magic Flute; Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes, performed by the U.K.'s innovative Kneehigh Theatre Group; and Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves. Tickets can be purchased on a per-event basis, with prices ranging from $10 to $130.
WHERE TO STAY Rooms can be hard to come by during Spoleto, so for last-minute travelers, we recommend Lodge Alley Inn, a time-share that rents its unreserved rooms starting seven days in advance. It's an old Masonic temple with choices of a studio or a one- or two-bedroom condo, all with kitchenettes. From $194, bluegreenonline.com. Alternately, you can stay across the river at the Hampton Inn in Mount Pleasant, S.C. It's a short drive to downtown over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, and the rates are more affordable than those in the city center. From $159 per night, hamptoninn.hilton.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; Washington, D.C.
Columbia Gorge, Ore.: For wine tasting along the river
WHY GO THIS WEEKEND 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 toasts its 10th anniversary with live music, tasting specials, and more. Outdoors, there are tournament-quality bocce ball courts, an amphitheater, and an ivy-covered arbor, all with sweeping views of Mt. Hood and the river (maryhillwinery.com). Visit Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery all weekend for live folk music, complimentary local cheeses, tastings, and vineyard tours (cascadecliffs.com).
WHERE TO STAY Historic Hood River Hotel celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. No two of the 41 rooms are alike and each is decorated with reproductions of antique furniture. The property is located in downtown Hood River, near wine tasting rooms, art galleries, jewelry shops, and restaurants. It's a two-minute drive from the river. From $99 per night, hoodriverhotel.com.
EASY GETAWAY FROM Portland, Ore.; Seattle; San Francisco.
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