For many, Memorial Day is considered the unofficial start of summer, regardless of the traditionalists and their radical “position of the sun” theory. Consider the finer points of the holiday: warm weather, barbecues, patriotic celebrations, and for most, the elusive three-day weekend. While Christmas or Independence Day might fall in the middle of the week, good old Memorial Day is always celebrated on the last Monday in May, meaning it’s a lock for a minimum three days of no work, school, or hot dog-free living.
Of course, there is a rather serious side to the holiday as well. Long before the mega sales, beach trips, and the Indianapolis 500 became part of our traditions, Memorial Day was created as a day of remembrance for U.S. soldiers who died while serving in the military. When making plans for this extended weekend, it’s important to set aside some time to pay tribute to those who sacrificed everything in order to protect the freedoms we enjoy today.
With a holiday as significant as this one, you’ll find celebrations taking place in every town, big or small across the country. It’s the perfect time to get away and do something amazing, especially for those of you planning on padding your three-day weekend with some extra time off. When it comes to selecting a destination for your ultimate Memorial Day weekend getaway, take a cue from these two cities, both of which have easily accessible airports (important with this being one of the busiest travel weekends of the year) as well as a wide variety of entertainment and Memorial Day service options.
East Coast Getaway – Washington, D.C.
Our nation’s capitol is arguably the perfect Memorial Day destination for American history enthusiasts. With so many monuments dedicated to those who served our country, you could easily fill up an entire week trying to visit them all. The most poignant of these memorials is the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery, built in honor of American service members who died without their remains being identified.
On the evening before Memorial Day, one of the most popular events in the D.C. area is an outdoor concert held on the Capitol’s west lawn, sponsored by PBS. The concert is free to attend, and features celebrity hosts, the national symphony orchestra, and a series of powerful tributes to America’s fallen heroes. The following day is marked with even grander celebrations, such as the ceremonies held at the U.S. Navy, World War II, and Vietnam Veterans memorials. Without a doubt though, the biggest of them all is the annual Memorial Day Parade, which carves a path from the National Mall to the White House, offering spectators over 200 separate elements, including active military units, veterans, floats, music, and celebrities.
West Coast Getaway – Seattle, WA
Memorial Day in Seattle comes with a fun twist, in that the anchor event for the entire weekend is the annual NW Folklife Festival, one of the largest folklife celebrations in the world. Featuring over 7,000 participants in more than 1,000 performances on 27 indoor and outdoor stages, this 4-day event has been a Seattle institution since 1972. You’ll experience the rich cultural heritage of the Pacific Northwest through performances, workshops, exhibits, films, crafts, food, and an overarching theme of encouraging others to celebrate, share, and sustain the vitality of traditional folk arts for present and future generations.
On Memorial Day, head over to the annual Memorial Day Service at Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park, to witness as they honor America’s fallen and salute the flags on the “Avenue of Colors”. There are also commemorative performances by several artists, such as the Pacific University Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Drum Corps. Directly after the service is a moving and informative guided tour of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery, which is done around a narrative delivered by David Bloch, son of Orville Emil Bloch, Medal of Honor recipient.
Jay Ferris is a Seattle-based writer, husband, and father of three, whose penchant for outdoors-based travel is rivaled only by his dependence on a steady internet connection and spider-free existence. Follow him on Twitter at @jayferris.