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The 8 Best Destinations for Memorial Day Weekend

Looking for the perfect Memorial Day weekend vacation? From special commemorative events to large-scale music festivals, here are eight of the best destinations for Memorial Day weekend 2023.

Waterloo, New York

Darlene Duprey | Waterloo, New York: Birthplace of Memorial Day

In 1966, 100 years after the first Memorial Day ceremonies, President Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation recognizing Waterloo, NY, as the birthplace of Memorial Day. What better way to celebrate than visiting where the holiday began in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York?

Waterloo will hold its annual Celebrate Commemorate event over the holiday weekend, complete with a 5K run/walk, live entertainment, and a Freedom Parade. You can also pay a visit to the American Civil War Memorial and there’s even a National Memorial Day Museum in town.

How to Get There

The closest airports to Waterloo are Rochester (ROC) and Syracuse (SYR). After landing at either airport, you’ll be about a one-hour drive from Waterloo. All major airlines fly into both airports including Southwest and JetBlue. There is also limited competition from ultra-low-cost carriers Allegiant and Frontier. You’ll find the most flight options flying into Rochester but it’s always best to check both to find the best deal.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco as seen through a tower of the Golden Gate Bridge
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There’s plenty to do over the long weekend in San Francisco, from exploring the city’s vibrant Pier 39 to visiting the Golden Gate Bridge. Several Memorial Day services are held throughout the city, including the annual commemoration at the Presidio National Ceremony, held this year on May 29th. For naval history and aviation enthusiasts, pay a visit to the USS Hornet Museum, housed in the former navy vessel that recovered the Apollo 11 crew after splashdown following their famous lunar landing. 

San Francisco Carnaval celebrates its 45th anniversary on May 27th-28th. Since 1978, this two-day festival has been celebrating “the diverse Latin American, Caribbean and African Diasporic roots of the Mission District and the San Francisco Bay Area” with musical performances, food vendors, educational resources, and more. The celebrations culminate in Grand Parade, which this year features more than 3,000 artists.

How to Get There

Skyscanner data shows that the average per passenger price for a round trip ticket to San Francisco over Memorial Day weekend is just $217. There are three major airports in and around the city—San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Norma Y. Mineta San José International Airport (KSJC), and Oakland International Airport (KOAK). San Francisco International (SFO) is the closest to downtown and the most popular option for travelers staying in the city. United and Alaska Airlines have hubs at San Francisco International, with American Airlines and Delta also offering several domestic flights.

Arlington, Virginia

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A visit to the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia is a great way to pay tribute and remember those who have served. There will be several remembrance ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater where thousands of visitors are in attendance each year. One of the most moving memorials in the cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which overlooks Washington D.C., providing a final resting place for one of America’s unidentified service members from World War I.

Directly across the Potomac River, you can also explore our nation’s capital by visiting several famous landmarks such as the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, or one of the Smithsonian Museums.

How to Get There

The Washington D.C. area has three major airports. For the most convenient option, you’ll want to look for flights into Reagan National Airport (DCA), which is the closest to downtown D.C. (and has its own METRO station). United has a hub at Washington-Dulles Airport (IAD) and if you’re looking to fly Southwest, you’ll find the most options into Baltimore (BWI).

Savannah, Georgia

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Head down to Savannah this Memorial Day Weekend and enjoy relatively moderate temperatures before the heat picks up during the peak summer months. Take a stroll around the historic district and enjoy its scenic cobblestone streets, elaborate architecture, and over 20 squares and parks full of ancient oak trees.

If you’re looking for a beach day, head over to Tybee Island where you’ll find expansive, sandy beaches in a family-friendly environment. It’s just 20 minutes east of downtown Savannah.

How to Get There

Flights to Savannah/Hilton Head Airport (SAV) have increased in recent years. Delta still carries the most passengers—primarily via its hub in Atlanta—however, budget carrier Allegiant has been a major factor in lowering fares to this regional airport with year-round and seasonal service from up to 13 different cities. Avelo Airlines also operates cheap flights out of New Haven to Savannah every Friday. As always, be sure to check Southwest when comparing prices and be flexible with travel dates as many budget airlines only fly on certain days of the week.

Chicago, Illinois

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From kayaking along the Chicago River to enjoying fireworks at the Navy Pier, there’s plenty to do in Chicago over Memorial Day Weekend. You can dine at waterfront restaurants or hit the beach along Lake Michigan with the city skyline providing a magnificent backdrop. Chicago will also host a Memorial Day wreath laying ceremony and parade on Saturday, May 27.

Around two and a half hours west of Chicago, Summer Camp Music Festival will take place in the small town of Chillicothe, Illinois, from May 25-28. The 3-day festival features dozens of musical acts, including Willie Nelson & Family and Umphrey’s McGee. Don’t forget to stick around for Field Day, where attendees divide into teams to duke it out over tug-o-war, dodgeball, and more to win a special “Victory Party.”

How to Get There

Flights to Chicago are plentiful with all major airlines flying into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (ORD). United, which is headquartered in Chicago, has the most market share, but American is close behind with a hub of its own at O’Hare. Spirit Airlines also flies to Chicago from over 20 cities across the U.S., making all airlines compete with its ultra-low fares. Chicago’s Midway Airport (MDW) is where you’ll find flights on Southwest and, as of April 2022, Frontier has been operating low-cost flights into Midway. According to Skyscanner, average airfare per seat to Chicago is just $221 round trip over Memorial Day weekend.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Well-known for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, New Orleans is also a great place to spend Memorial Day Weekend. The National World War II Museum is often rated the top attraction in New Orleans and it can be a great way to learn about the American experience in the war that changed the world.

Of course, you’ll also get to enjoy the vibrant nightlife of the French Quarter and the many tastes and sounds that make New Orleans one of the most cultured cities in America. If you’re a fan of festivals, The New Orleans Greek Fest will take place over Memorial Day Weekend with over 20 traditional homemade Greek pastries to try.

How to Get There

When looking for flights into Louis Armstrong New Orleans Airport (MSY) make sure to check what’s available on Southwest Airlines as it is by far the largest carrier flying to/from New Orleans. Spirit Airlines helps to keep fares as low as possible with flights from up to 50 different cities and one of the newest airlines to hit the U.S. skies, Breeze Airways, offers low-cost flights from up to 16 cities across the nation.

Indianapolis, Indiana

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Race car fans flock to Indianapolis over Memorial Day Weekend to experience the famous Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The main event takes place on Sunday, May 28, and is preceded by a kick off Miller Lite Carb Day concert on Friday, May 26.

If you’re bringing the kids, you can visit the expansive Children’s Museum, which recently opened a revamped Dinosphere exhibit in 2022 where you can learn all about the largest animals to ever roam the earth and be immersed in their prehistoric environment.

How to Get There

As with many airports in this list, Southwest is the largest carrier in Indianapolis (IND) so you’ll want to be sure to check its website to compare prices. Other than Southwest, you’ll find regular service on all three legacy carriers, American, Delta, and United, with Spirit Airlines and Allegiant providing the most service in the ultra-low-cost category.

Seattle, Washington

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Travel to the Pacific Northwest this Memorial Day Weekend and experience the Northwest Folklife Festival in Seattle. The community-powered festival celebrates diversity and cultural expression and there is no admission charge—it runs purely on donations. The theme for 2023 is Lagom: Not Too Much, Not Too Little, But Just Right, drawing on the Scandinavian term “lagom” to celebrate people’s journey toward finding balance in life.

While in Seattle, you can also visit some of the city’s top attractions including The Museum of Pop Culture, a hike in Mt. Rainier National Park, or, one of my personal favorites, The Museum of Flight, where you can have a look inside a Concorde jet and a former Air Force One.

How to Get There

There’s no question which airline dominates in Seattle (SEA). As Alaska Airlines’ largest hub, you’ll find the most flight options on this Oneworld alliance member. However, Delta has been making a push in Seattle over the past several years and has brought competitive pricing with its ability to connect travelers from all over the country. You can also find Alaska Airlines flights into nearby Paine Field Airport (PAE) in Everett.

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