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14 Last-Minute Memorial Day Getaways You Won’t Want to Miss

Even if you haven't booked a vacation getaway for Memorial Day weekend yet, there are plenty of great options around the United States where you can kick back and enjoy the first rays of summer sun even at the last minute.

Belhurst Castlevia

Celebrate the birthplace of Memorial Day in New York State

Memorial Day actually has a home town, Waterloo, New York in the Finger Lakes region of central New York, where the idea to remember the patriotic dead was first suggested in1865, and then made it a formal holiday in 1868 by General John Logan. Today the modern-day celebration involves a parade with divisions for military members, veterans and officials; illumination ceremonies at the American Civil War Memorial; horse and wagon tours; Seneca Lake Reel Tours on a 50-foot catamaran; downtown Waterloo historical scavenger hunt; presidential and Civil War reenactors, including Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln; plus a firework grand finale. Keep the historic feelings going with a stay at the 19th century Belhurst Castle in nearby Geneva, New York. Here are some Memorial Day facts you didn’t learn in school.

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Harbourview Innvia

Immerse in the performing arts in Charleston

Beginning over Memorial Day weekend, Spoleto Festival USA brings two weeks of theater, opera, jazz, and symphonic and choral music performances to charming Charleston, South Carolina. The festival fills Charleston’s historic theaters, churches, and outdoor spaces with performances by renowned artists such as Yo Yo Ma and Esperanza Spalding as well as emerging performers. Stay at the HarbourView Inn, where professional docents from the Principal Gallery host weekly presentations on the therapeutic benefits of the artistic process.

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Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic Cityvia

Go fly a kite in New Jersey

New Jersey is home to the largest kite festival in North America, the Wildwoods International Kite Festival, which takes place just outside Atlantic City on Wildwoods Beach. Kite makers from all over the world showcase their most colorful creations. The first night of the festival makes its grand entrance with an illuminated night fly. There are even kite competitions, including the World Indoor Kite Competition where people fly kites without wind. Oh, and it’s all free. Then spend the weekend on the free beaches of Atlantic City at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Set on 17-acres, with the legendary boardwalk as its backdrop, the Hard Rock dials up the AC excitement Memorial Day weekend excitement with expansive nightlife, lavish guestrooms, and a brand new beach club and tiki bar. Find out other beach vacation ideas for your next getaway.

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InterContinental Washington D.C. The Wharfvia

Show your patriotic side in Washington, D.C.

The largest Memorial Day parade in the country takes place every year in Washington, D.C. Watching hundreds of servicemen and women march down Constitution Avenue is a moving reminder of what this holiday is really all about, and it instills a powerful sense of national pride. After the parade, enjoy a free concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol by the National Symphony Orchestra. Extend your weekend at the waterfront Wharf neighborhood where you can rent a kayak to paddle past some of D.C.’s most famous attractions and check into the InterContinental Washington D.C. which offers views of the Potomac River and a buzzy new restaurant.

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Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beachvia

Witness a sea of light in Oahu

Although it’s a tropical paradise year-round, Memorial Day weekend is a uniquely picturesque time to visit Oahu, when the free Lantern Floating Ceremony draws 50,000 people to the beach to watch as thousands of illuminated lanterns are set out to sea memorializing those who have died in service to their country. In addition to the lantern ceremony, there’s also a Memorial Day Picnic, and the Hawaiian island offers plenty of sand and surf for travelers to enjoy over the long holiday weekend, too. Base your holiday weekend at the Moana Surfrider, known as the “First Lady of Waikiki,” a short walk from some of Oahu’s best shopping and dining.

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Indianapolis skyline at sunset after thunderstorm.Rudy Balasko/Shutterstock

Get your motor running in Indianapolis

“Gentlemen, start your engines.” Who hasn’t heard the immortal words that launch the Indy 500 race every year? So why not take a trip to Indianapolis to spend Memorial Day weekend finding out what all the excitement is about? Other than the actual race, Motor Speedway mania will be revved up with 500 Festival celebrations. The 500 Festival includes road races, parades, and kids’ activities. Don’t forget to wander through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum before hitting the track!

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View of palm trees on the shore and mountains from Stearn's Wharf, in Santa Barbara, California.Jon Bilous/Shutterstock

Hit the streets for amazing art in Santa Barbara

The Santa Barbara in California was the first U.S. city to host an I Madonnari Festival, the three-day Italian festival of street painters. Now it’s become an annual event that happens around Memorial Day weekend and includes hundreds of madonnari (street painters), who will cover the mission plaza with 150 different paintings. Though the paintings are made with chalk, the tradition, dating at least to the 16th century, is called “street painting” because of how closely the pictures can resemble the oil paintings the artists use as their models. The festival benefits the Children’s Creative Project, a nonprofit arts education program of the Santa Barbara County Education Office. Don’t miss these other summer weekend getaways you’ll want to book ASAP.

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Motif Seattlevia

Get folksy in Seattle

The Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle celebrates Memorial Day weekend with four days of free performances intended to revive and sustain ethnic, folk, and traditional arts. It features more than 800 musical performances in multiple genres, covering American and international styles. Other events include cultural dance workshops, storytelling sessions, film screenings, cooking demonstrations, and conversation panels about the arts. The best part is that some of these events are participatory, which means you can join in all the singing and dancing action. Motif Seattle Hotel offers the perfect retreat in the heart of the city’s downtown with a rooftop lounge with sweeping views, and both a heated indoor pool and an outdoor swimming pool, so you’ll be able to take a swim no matter what the Seattle weather offers up.

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Loews Atlanta Hotelvia

Enjoy free jazz in Atlanta

One of the largest free jazz festivals in the country, the Atlanta Jazz Festival features dozens of artists performing over Memorial Day weekend. Past performers include Lionel Hampton, Wynton Marsalis, Ray Charles, and Miles Davis, among other jazz legends. Check out the festival’s lineup to see who’s playing this year. The Loews Atlanta Hotel is just a short walk away from the Piedmont Park venue.

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PALM SPRINGS, USA - FEBRUARY 15 2018: View of the city of Palm Springs entrance sign with palm trees growing behind itKeep Smiling Photography/Shutterstock

Keep your eye on the sky in Palm Springs

Palm Springs Air Museum in California hosts an annual Memorial Day ceremony called the Flower Drop & Air Fair. Throughout the day, visitors can watch air shows, visit flight exhibitions, and see a World War II reenactment. The ceremony culminates with the Flower Drop Memorial Service, a fly-by with planes in missing man formation (a salute to fallen military members) followed by B-25 Mitchell Bomber that drops 3,000 red and white carnations on spectators below. Find out more about the surprising history of Memorial Day.

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Virginia City/Nevada/USA - May 9, 2015: Locomotive that runs on the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. A short train ride from Virginia City to Silver City Nevada.alexroch/Shutterstock

Ride the rails around Reno

Explore the beauty of the Lake Tahoe area with a trip from Carson City to Virginia City on the V&T Railroad, an unique stream train that starts its season Memorial Day weekend. Virginia City is host to the Celebration of Heroes Parade on Saturday, May 26, at noon. While you’re there, explore antique shops, take an old time photo and mingle with the characters of this historic mining town. Reno, Nevada bordering Lake Tahoe, also serves up a Memorial Day experience like no other, including a feast of the city’s culinary offerings at “Food Truck Friday.” There are also plenty of aquatic offerings on the shores of Lake Tahoe, including swimming, paddle boarding, and whitewater rafting. Check out more fascinating facts you never knew about Memorial Day.

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Hutton Hotelvia

Run for a cause in Nashville

A great Memorial Day weekend getaway, Nashville offers a number of celebration and commemoration ceremonies, such as the Fort Negley Memorial Program, held annually on the Saturday before Memorial Day, to honor all serving members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and the 2019 Memorial Day 1 Mile, 5K and 10K Virtual Race, in which participants can run, jog or walk at their own pace and 15% of each registration is donated to Operation Gratitude. Stay at the Hutton Hotel located in the city’s lively West End neighborhood, just steps from the heart of Music Row where you can spend part of your holiday weekend discovering Nashville’s creative music culture.

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Dream South Beachvia

Be dazzled in Miami

Miami explodes with celebrations and events in honor of Memorial Day weekend, including the Miami Beach Air & Sea Show; Music Explosion and Fireworks Extravaganza; Best of the Best Memorial Day Concert at Bayfront Park; and the Flamingo Gardens Memorial Day Kidz Fest. After the festivities, there’s a number of beaches where guests can go to relax in the sun. Stay at the Dream South Beach which provides the perfect respite for travelers looking to stay in Miami. Occupying the former shells of two Miami Beach Art Deco icons—the Tudor Hotel and Palmer House—the 108-room property is nestled against the former Versace Mansion and a mere 50 yards from the beach.

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Colorful houses line the hillside over looking the beach in San Juan, Puerto RicoMartin Wheeler III/Shutterstock

Soak up the sun in Puerto Rico

Finally, for many Americans, Memorial Day weekend is all about hitting the beach for the first bit of summer sun. However, in May, water temperatures don’t always agree with jumping into the waves. That’s why it’s the perfect time to head to the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico known for its year-long warm weather, pristine beaches (nearly 300 miles, to be exact!), and rich history and culture. With no passport or currency exchange required for U.S. citizens, the island is the perfect warm-weather neighbor to the south and the ideal destination for a last minute trip during Memorial Day Weekend.

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Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.