How is it that Memorial Day sneaks up on us every year? It was just winter, and then all of a sudden the unofficial start of summer is only a few days away. The good news is it’s never too late to plan a quick-and-easy getaway for the long Memorial Day weekend. Here are eight ideas for short, fun road trips and big-city escapes that work just as well for families as for solo travelers.
Find Your Inner Writer
You’ll have plenty of time this summer to spend reading on the beach (we hope!) but for now, get your book fix by road tripping through our nation’s literary past in New England. Wendy, who majored in History and Literature at Harvard, has designed this two-day itinerary, starting and ending in Boston, that takes you through Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, and Edith Wharton country.
Find Your Inner Food Critic
Put your GPS and your stomach to good use on a road trip focused on your favorite regional foods. For a Southern barbecue and soul food feast, for example, you could start with hickory-smoked ribs in Blue Ridge, Georgia, and continue sampling the country’s best barbecue on this itinerary through Nashville all the way to Kansas City. Or rate lobster rolls along the Northeastern coast, from Captain Scott’s Lobster Dock in New London, Connecticut, to Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, Maine. Find a few lauded spots with the TripAdvisor or LocalEats apps and you’re good to go. Of course, you could also just eat your way through the nearest State Fair.
See Spectacular Coastline
“One of my all-time favorite adventures along the northern California coast is to drive the one-lane, unpaved road off Route 1, just west of Leggett, to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park,” says Sheri Doyle, our Trusted Travel Expert for California road trips. “It’s a white-knuckle trip that will have you praying you won’t meet anyone coming the other way, and you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle to do it, but the reward at the end—a black-sand beach out in the middle of nowhere—is fantastic. If that’s too daunting, the drive to the ‘Lost Coast’—the stretch of coastline from Ferndale to the Avenue of the Giants, just south of Eureka—is paved and not quite as difficult, but also leads to fantastic beach views that you’ll share with more cows than people.”
Discover Geological Wonders
Make one of Utah’s gorgeous national parks your goal for the weekend, and turn the drive into part of the experience by driving Highway 12, which runs between the Utah towns of Tropic and Torrey alongside the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. “This is considered one of the most spectacular drives in the world, yet few actually take the time to do it,” says Marty Behr, Trusted Travel Expert for national parks. “If you have even a passing interest in geology, you’ll be fascinated by the roadside pullout information displays.”
Delve Into the Heartland
America’s Great River Road runs along the Mississippi, all the way from Canada to the Gulf Coast, passing through country dotted with historic villages, wineries, wildlife, and sweeping vistas. Wendy recommends this two- to three-day itinerary that takes you along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, starting in Minneapolis and ending in Madison, Wisconsin.
Pursue Your Passion
Remember that you don’t need a bucket-list destination to make a road trip memorable. Just think of something you love and string together a few spots related to it. Are your kids die-hard baseball fans? Plan a route that connects minor-league stadiums. Do you swoon over lighthouses? Maine and North Carolina are just two states for you. If botanical gardens are more your thing, set your course for the Southwest and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Or go all-out quirky and seek out three of the world’s largest anything—apps such as Roadside America and Along the Way will help you track them down.
See How It’s Made
Many candy, ice cream, and food companies offer kid-friendly tours of their facilities—but you definitely don’t need to be a kid to enjoy them. In most cases you’ll get to see some behind-the-scenes manufacturing, learn about the company and the product, and (best part) get to taste the final product. Hershey’s Chocolate World in Pennsylvania and Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont are pretty well-known, but you can find more unusual ones like Tabasco Pepper Sauce in Louisiana and the Celestial Seasonings Tea factory in Colorado. Wendy’s husband, Tim, took the boys to the Jelly Belly jellybeans factory in California one year.
Find Peace in a Big City
You won’t be the only person thinking about hitting a big city this weekend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t avoid the crowds. Washington, D.C. is beautiful now, in the spring, before the summer heat and humidity roll in. While everyone else is piling into the various Smithsonian museums, head away from the Mall to Dumbarton Oaks. “This is an eclectic museum and gardens tucked away in a residential neighborhood, a mile and a half from the closest Metro stop,” says Paul Bennett, our Trusted Travel Expert for cultural city tours. “Owned by Harvard, the former mansion features world-class pre-Columbian and Byzantine art and artifacts, impressive architecture designed by Philip Johnson, and a beautiful 27-acre garden and park. It’s never crowded, and as a bonus, it’s a short stroll away from an outstanding small museum, Tudor Place, as well as the Georgetown commercial district.” In New York, leave the sunbathing hordes of Central Park behind and instead spend the weekend exploring the city’s other parks. Plan a picnic in Fort Washington Park, near the city’s only remaining beacon Jeffrey’s Hook Light House (also known as the Little Red Lighthouse) at the foot of the George Washington Bridge. Or head to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, to climb Lookout Hill in Prospect Park. “Its the highest point in Brooklyn,” says Paul. “A magical spot with views of the 585-acre Olmsted/Vaux–designed park, the low-lying roofscape of brownstone Brooklyn, and, on clear winter days, the Coney Island Ferris wheel and the bay beyond.” Paul’s company, Context Travel, offers in-depth walking tours of these and other cities (including their hometown of Philadelphia) to help you uncover hidden gems with local experts.
Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter @wendyperrin, and Instagram @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.