If you haven’t made any plans for Memorial Day weekend, don’t panic or suffer in defeat at home just yet. Actually, by waiting, you seem to be the adventurous kind who shuns pre-planned, scheduled packaged vacation deals, and hankers for a little more spontaneity and variety in life. Don’t confuse this with master-level procrastination or being put-off by the exorbitant fees for most popular holiday attractions (though who’d ever blame you for thinking that). Instead, as a hard-wired cultural rebel who’s turned off by cookie-cutter vacation formulas, think of it as an opportunity to enrich your well-earned three-day weekend with these unconventional, last-minutes ideas. Ready? Read away.
Theme 1: Follow wild-life migration paths or visit animal sanctuaries
Ever considered incorporating wild-life migration paths or visits to an animal sanctuary as part of your long weekend? Craft a weekend dedicated to learning about not-so-cuddly wildlife and great local conservation efforts mixed with sampling local cuisines or cultural history at some of these smaller cities. The large coastal areas up and down Monterey Bay in California are a hot bed of activity for marine life and cute ocean towns, where you can catch a swath of humpback whales, and blue whales, dolphins, and even red pelagic crabs from ashore in May.
- Take a whale-watching tour along the West coast with Monterey Bay Whale Watch or off the New England waters
- Visit a wolf sanctuary at the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota
- Kayak down Crystal River to commune with wild manatees in Floridian waters
Theme 2: Burnish locavore credentials with tours and tastings galore
Curious about how your favorite food or beverage is produced? Take a page from Portlandia’s tongue-in-cheek skit and create a weekend around discovering local food production through factory and farm tours, visiting tasting rooms, or joining cooking classes. Gain an encyclopaedic knowledge about obscure (but awesome) food facts that’ll burnish your locavore cred, and take home dreams of suddenly building a backyard chicken coup. My personal favorite is to visit local markets to sample everything down the aisle, while the most bizarre was taking a seaweed foraging class.
- Farmers/Seafood Markets: Pike Place in Seattle, WA; Sweet Auburn Curb Market in Atlanta, GA; Lexington Market, Baltimore, MD
- Distillery/Brewery/Winery tours: Go to Kentucky Bourbon distilleries, crawl over 70 Portland beer breweries, or Virginia wineries
- Food factories & tours: Wisconsin Cheese tours, Ben & Jerry’s Factory tours in VT, or Intelligentsia roasting tours in Chicago
Theme 3: Go film-spotting to your favorite shoot locations
If you’re a self-professed culture buff who can’t stop impressing on others with your bottomless wellspring of TV and film trivia, this is a no brainer for you. Relive cult classics and recreate favorite TV and movie moments by visiting iconic filming locations around the country, and appreciate the cinematographer’s skills on how epic (or not) the actual landscape was that forever etched those scenes into your mind. Here are some places and films shot in those areas that you can plan your road trip around:
- Seattle: Sleepless in Seattle, The Ring, Twin Peaks, 50 Shades of Grey, 10 Things I Hate About You, Grey’s Anatomy
- Chicago: Home Alone, Public Enemies, High Fidelity, Blues Brothers, The Break-Up, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Dark Knight
- New Orleans: American Horror Story, Tremé, 21 Jump Street, True Detective, Interview with the Vampire, The Green Lantern
- Honorable Mentions: Breaking Bad (NM); Goonies (OR); Twilight (WA); The Walking Dead (GA); It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (PA)
Theme 4: Get a glimpse of living history with historical reenactments and walking tours
Are there any history buffs in the house who’ve absorbed every piece of historical literature or documentary on the trials and tribulations of how the country came to be? Those who collect old maps and rusty coins with maniacal glee and find theatrical glory in American colonial and antebellum reenactments? Commemorate Memorial Day and excite your inner nerd by retracing the path of historical movements of yesteryear. Walk through historical towns, exhibits, or on battlegrounds associated with pivotal eras outside of Washington DC.
- Dive into reenactments of historic battles and colorful performances
- Celebrate America’s transformation from Southern antebellum past to iconic music revolution with Nashville’s walking tours
- Visit Spanish missions and Old Towns dotting along El Camino Real to trace the colonization and conquest of California
Once you decide on a theme to follow, always check on Hipmunk, HotelTonight or Airbnb for lodging options and travel deals on the cheap. Now go forth and enjoy the three days of glory – Happy Memorial Day to everyone!