Although Memorial Day was intended first and foremost as a day of remembrance to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, this holiday weekend also marks the unofficial start of summer in the U.S., and as such, has evolved to become one of the busiest travel times of the year. But if you live in California, you don’t have to pay a premium on last-minute airfare to enjoy some spontaneous out-of-town adventure and fun, or to decide to unwind in a rejuvenating environment away from home on short notice. To help spark your wanderlust, we’re highlighting a few choice destinations to visit over the long weekend within the Golden State:
The classic Southern California beach town has plenty to offer including its soft sand beach, palm trees and gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. Santa Monica is also home to a vibrant 100-year-old Pier celebrated for its great food, street performers and oceanfront shopping, along with numerous amusements such as an aquarium and thrills like the West Coaster, the Looff Hippodrome and the first solar-powered Ferris wheel. The Museum of Flying and Third Street Promenade are also among the many attractions to be found in the city.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Santa Monica hosts its seventh annual MAINopoly: A Taste of Main Street, to be held on Sunday, May 29 in 2022. This all-ages event is an interactive take on the classic board game — inviting you to join a walking tour with tastings and the chance to win prizes at 20+ spots. For accommodations in Santa Monica, here is a good place to start.
Joshua Tree National Park and Palm Springs
If you’re seeking a weekend adventure that invites you to soak up the vast outdoors in a hauntingly beautiful desert landscape, consider a trip to Joshua Tree National Park over the holiday. About an hour’s drive from Palm Springs, the park is also one of the best stargazing spots in California with its high desert elevations and lack of city lights. It’s an ideal location for hiking, touring and camping, comprising two desert ecosystems with surreal landforms and intriguing plants and wildlife. You can find various options for lodging at the National Parks Reservations website.
Combine your exploration of the desert wilderness with a stay in Palm Springs, and you can also enjoy a great culinary and cocktail scene along with exquisite golf courses, a laid-back artistic vibe, and a pool at almost every hotel. Palm Springs also boasts the largest rotating tram in the world. If you stick around through Monday to avoid the returning traffic, consider attending the Palm Springs Air Museum’s Annual Memorial Day Flower Drop and Air Fair, held May 30. On this day, thousands of red and white carnations will drop from a CH-47 Chinook Helicopter in tribute to fallen veterans, followed by a missing man formation aerial salute. For more tips and things to see and do in Palm Springs and on the road to Joshua Tree, be sure to check out “Palm Springs to Joshua Tree: How to Make the Most Out of Your Trip.”
Unrivalled natural scenery and world-class restaurants make Big Sur an unforgettable destination that keeps topping our lists for last-minute getaways, especially for those of us in Northern California. Getting there from the Bay Area is an amazing experience onto itself (minus the traffic so it’s always advisable to check beforehand). Roughly a three-hour drive from San Francisco, this magnificent stretch of coastline on Highway 1 will take you alongside towering cliffs, vast blue Pacific Ocean and lush greenery. Once there, there is much to explore including secluded beaches, rivers, waterfalls, flower-strewn meadows, secret coves, hot springs and redwood forests. Among the many excellent choices for dining which also include a spectacular view are Ventana Big Sur, Nepenthe and Sierra Mar at the Post Ranch Inn. Find an abundance of information on where to stay and what to do in Big Sur at Visit California.
If it’s been a while since you’ve spent time in Sacramento or you’ve yet to visit, Memorial Day weekend is a great time to explore what it has to offer. As California.com explains, Sacramento has been experiencing a renaissance in terms of urban culture as of late. In addition to classic attractions like Old Sacramento and its many unique museums, visitors are now finding that the State Capital is rife with first-rate restaurants, gastropubs and stylish boutiques.
A multitude of exciting events are planned in Sacramento during the long weekend, from the California Automobile Museum Veteran's Memorial Day Car Show to the County Fair, which features over 30 food vendors, bull riding contests, concerts, a demolition derby and more. Another excellent suggestion from Tripping.com: book a cruise and meal on the Sacramento River aboard the Delta King.
This alpine lake and year-round resort destination located about 80 miles from Los Angeles is considered by many to be the jewel of the San Bernardino National Forrest. A completely snow-fed lake, Big Bear is an ideal spot for a wide range of aquatic activities such as boating, swimming, fishing, jet skiing, and wakeboarding. Among the many thrills to be found on land are horseback riding, zip-lining and off-roading. During a stay in Big Bear, many vacationers also take in panoramic views from the Scenic Sky Chair at Big Bear Mountain Resort, visit the Alpine Zoo or even try the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, Southern California’s only authentic bobsled experience (open all-year). Plenty of family-friendly fun is planned for Memorial Day weekend in 2022. Just a few of these events include: the Big Bear Lake Grill N Chill BBQ festival, MaiFest, a Memorial Day ceremony at Veterans Park, and a drone light show.
Wherever you reside in the state, you’re most likely within an easily drivable distance of incredible destinations, from sunlit seaside escapes and charming mountain lake towns, to historic attractions and iconic national parks. Lest you should feel compelled to limit yourself to this list, consider that we’ve only explored a fraction of great Memorial Day getaways in California, many of which also offer one-of-a-kind festivities planned for the long weekend. A few others travel experts point to as highly worthy of consideration for your Memorial Day plans: Huntington Beach, Truckee, Catalina Island, Ojaj, Carlsbad, Sausalito and San Diego. As always, be sure to check venues and activities for any possible closures, and stay alert to advisories and conditions where you’re headed.