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12 great Memorial Day getaways

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

While Memorial Day is full of festivals and other lively events, it is also a time to honor those in the armed forces who died, such as those at Arlington National Cemetery.

Thinking about taking a break for Memorial Day? Now is the time to start planning. To point you in the right direction, we looked for celebrations across America that offered something special in honor of the Memorial Day holiday, be it a patriotic tribute, a celeb-worthy pool party, an epic blues festival or a vineyard tour.

But reading about a party that's taking place miles and miles from home is frustrating, not fun. That's why we highlighted places that are easily accessible no matter where you are in the continental U.S. (all of the cities called out under "easy getaway" are within either a 1.5-hour flight or four-hour drive from the featured destination). Consider this your guide to three-day weekend bliss.

Palm Springs, Calif. -- For guaranteed summer weather
Why go this weekend: While most beach seasons are just beginning, Memorial Day marks the end of bearable temps in the desert, so hotels and operators are running specials for the holiday. Though other parts of California will be in the midst of "May Gray" and "June Gloom," Palm Springs still has nonstop sunshine—plus dozens of vintage shops, acclaimed restaurants such as Copley's on Palm Canyon (where celebrity chef Andrew Copley whips up So Cal comfort food like lobster pot pie) and an enduring love for all things mid-century (its hotels and private homes offer some of the best examples of 1950s modern architecture in the country). It also makes a great base camp for exploring the striking desert landscape of Joshua Tree National Park through hikes, mountain biking, or rock climbing.

Where to stay: Book one of the 155 pet-friendly rooms, with pool or mountain views and breakfast included, at the hip and affordable Palm Springs Travelodge. Call and mention "Budget Travel" for 20 percent off bookings over the weekend. From $115 per night, palmcanyonhotel.com.

 Easy getaway from: Los Angeles; San Francisco; Phoenix; Las Vegas.

Washington, D.C. -- For patriotism, pomp, and circumstance
Why go this weekend: As you might guess, D.C. is the most patriotic place to celebrate the holiday, with a parade and plenty of pomp and circumstance taking place during special military ceremonies. The Thursday before Memorial Day, soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery put flags before each gravestone. On Memorial Day, a wreath-laying ceremony happens at the Tomb of the Unknowns—President Obama spoke at last year's ceremony—and the U.S. Army Band, Pershing's Own, performs. Men in uniform also march in the National Memorial Day Parade along the National Mall. Don't miss the National Memorial Day Concert Sunday on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Where to stay: Kimpton Hotels is running a Memorial Day weekend special in five of its hip properties. Check in Thursday or Friday and stay for three nights for the $120 a night rate at the Helix, $130 per night at the Rouge, $140 a night at Topaz or the Madera, or $150 per night at the Palomar Washington D.C., all in northwest D.C. near The White House, when you mention booking code "PMEM" (that's over 25 percent savings off of normal rates). From $120 per night over Memorial Day weekend, kimptonhotels.com.

 Easy getaway from: Albany, N.Y.; Baltimore; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Hartford, Conn.; Louisville, Ky.; Nashville; New York; Providence, R.I.

From a Caribbean cruise to a mountain retreat in the Rockies, Travelocity's Nina Willdorf spotlights deeply discounted travel deals for Memorial Day weekend.

Las Vegas -- For free rock concerts and parties by the pool
Why go this weekend: Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas is one of the busiest times of the year, along with New Year's Eve.

Parties held around the resorts' elaborate pools are the big event, and become daylight nightclubs with DJs, drink carts, bottle service, cabanas and more. To get in on the action, grab a chaise at the Venus Pool Club at Caesars Palace. (If you're a guest, there is no cover charge for hunkering down poolside until 1 p.m; afterward, women pay $10 and men $30 to attend. Caesars Palace is one of the few properties that allows non-guests to enjoy the party for a cover charge — women get in free until 1 p,m. and pay $10 after that, while men are charged a $30 cover all day.)

The Tropicana Las Vegas opens its brand new Bagatelle Beach & Nightclub this Memorial Day weekend, featuring Mediterranean food and comfy daybeds to lounge in by day, and offers poolside dining and a new nightclub by night. The XS Nightclub at the Wynn Las Vegas & Encore Resort will host DJ Tiesto Friday night and David Guetta on Monday night among other electronica superstars over the weekend; tickets can be purchased ahead of time starting at $30 per person.

The Rock of Vegas free summer concert series also kicks off this weekend at the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas, and runs every Saturday night thru Labor Day with performances by Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Poison front-man Brett Michaels, and Dee Snider of Twisted Sister.

Where to stay: The Orleans Hotel & Casino is just off the main drag and offers free shuttle service to and from the Strip every 30-45 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. The hotel offers its own casino, comedy club, cabaret lounge, Irish pub, movie theater, bowling alley, and playgrounds and arcades for the kiddies. From $95 per night over Memorial Day weekend, orleanscasino.com.

Easy getaway from: Los Angeles; San Francisco.

Saint Louis -- For comfort food, a blues festival and the ultimate treasure hunt
Why go this weekend: This year, Soldier's Memorial Park will host the Bluesweek Festival, free from Friday to Sunday, with performances by more than 50 musicians, including local blues legend Arthur Williams. If all that music whets your appetite, head to the Schlafly Tap Room on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Pork Shop, a combination community garage sale and neighborhood bar-b-que, featuring local pork and plenty of Schlafly beer. You'll need all this fuel to tackle the largest flea market in the Midwest, Gypsy Caravan, an annual Memorial Day event organized for the 40th year by the St. Louis Symphony Volunteer Association.

Where to stay: Downtown, the 179-room Roberts Mayfair Hotel has a rooftop pool and emerged from a $9 million makeover in March 2011. You can get the MetroLink light rail two blocks from the hotel, which will take you to Soldiers Memorial and other downtown sites. From $149 a night, robertsmayfairhotel.com.

Easy getaway from: Chicago; Cincinnati; Kansas City, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.

Portsmouth, N.H. -- For seaside New England charm
Why go this weekend: Portsmouth keeps popping up on lists of cool, small towns, and Memorial Day weekend, when locals and visitors alike come out en force to honor our veterans, is a great time to explore the area. Sitting at the northern point of New Hampshire's brief coastline, the 17th-century seaport here is one of the oldest in America. Every year, the U.S. Navy conducts a ceremony at the USS Albacore Museum & Memorial Park, a 1953 test submarine that is now a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, set in a park honoring those lost in deep-sea battles or tragedies.

Where to stay: The Ale House Inn, a 130-year-old former brewery, sits right downtown at Market Square. Its 10 contemporary rooms come with complimentary in-room iPads. From $139 per night, alehouseinn.com.

Easy getaway from: Boston; Hartford, Conn.; Portland, Maine; Providence, R.I.

Austin -- For boating season and outdoor fun
Why go this weekend: Head to Lake Travis to soak up some of Austin's best weather of the year, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures in the 80s. Memorial Day kicks off boating season here, so the place to be is the lake.

To get in on the action, check out Austin's REI store's schedule of events to find out what classes and events are on offer this weekend or rent a ski boat at Just for Fun ($75 for one hour). If you'd rather be a spectator, catch a glimpse of the Capital of Texas Triathlon on Memorial Day, an event founded in 1991 that brings in 3,000 participants annually. Things get started with a swim at Lady Bird Lake before athletes break out the bikes for a race through Austin, leading up to a foot race around the southern part of the lake.

Where to stay: The Mansion at Judges' Hill is a reasonably priced, 48-room boutique hotel. Plus, the turn-of-the-century property is walking distance from downtown. From $129 per night, mansionatjudgeshill.com.

Easy getaway from: Atlanta; Dallas.

Charleston, S.C. -- For high art with Southern hospitality
Why go this weekend: One of the earliest observances of Memorial Day was by a group of freed slaves and took place weeks after the Civil War ended in 1865 in Charleston's Hampton Park. Today, the world-renowned Spoleto Festival starts its two-week run this weekend, filling the historic city's theaters, churches and outdoor spaces with opera, theater, jazz, symphonies, choruses and visual arts. Highlights this year include the urban dance fused cabaret show, Traces; ukulele prodigy Jake Shimabukuro; Brazilian vocalist Virginia Rodrigues; and Kepler, a new operatic piece by Philip Glass. Tickets can be purchased on a per-event basis, with prices ranging from $10 to $130.

Where to stay: Rooms can be hard to come by during Spoleto, so for last-minute travelers, we recommend Lodge Alley Inn, a time-share that rents its unreserved rooms starting seven days in advance. It's an old Masonic temple with choices of a studio or a one- or two-bedroom condo, all with kitchenettes. From $209, bluegreenonline.com. 

 Alternately, you can stay across the river at the Hampton Inn/Charleston Mount Pleasant-Patriot's Point. It's a short drive to downtown over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, and the rates are more affordable than those in the city center. From $169 per night, hamptoninn.hilton.com.

 Easy getaway from: Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; Washington, D.C.

Columbia Gorge, Ore. -- For wine tasting along the river

Why go this weekend: Over Memorial Day weekend, more than 30 wineries and tasting rooms in the scenic Columbia Gorge area of Oregon, which borders Washington State to the north, will be holding open houses featuring such events as barrel tastings and special releases. Maryhill Winery toasts its 11th anniversary with live music, tasting specials, the unveiling of their brand new Reserve Room, and more. Outdoors, there are tournament-quality bocce ball courts, an amphitheater and a vine-covered arbor terrace, all with sweeping views of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. Visit Cascade Cliffs Vineyard & Winery all weekend for live folk music, complimentary local cheeses, tastings, and vineyard tours.

Where to stay: Historic Hood River Hotel was originally built in 1911 and restored in 1988-no two of the 41 rooms are alike and each is decorated with reproductions of antique furniture. The property is located in downtown Hood River, near wine tasting rooms, art galleries, jewelry shops and restaurants. It's a two-minute drive from the river. From $99 per night, hoodriverhotel.com.

Easy getaway from: Portland, Ore.; Seattle; San Francisco.

Denver -- For fine art and music in the 'Mile High City' 

Why go this weekend: Fine art and pop culture descend on the Rockies over Memorial Day weekend. The Downtown Denver Arts Festival kicks off its 14th year on Friday, May 25, hosting more than 135 local artists from all over the state. The free festival lasts all weekend at Denver Pavilions, and everything from 3D mixed media to jewelry to photography will be featured. If live music is more your style, try the Denver Day of Rock on Saturday, May 26, when 20 bands — including the 1980s rock group Toto — treat audiences to a series of free rock concerts from 2:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. along the 16th Street Mall. Best of all, the concerts benefit Concerts for Kids and Food Bank of the Rockies, two local organizations dedicated to fighting child hunger — everyone is asked to bring canned food to drop off at designated spots around the venue.

Where to stay: Area hotels, like The Burnsley All Suite Hotel are offering special Day of Rock packages just for Memorial Day weekend, including perks like free parking, shuttle service to downtown Denver, and daily breakfast. From $129 a night, burnsley.comParticipating hotels throughout Denver also offer deals throughout the summer.

 Easy getaway from: Salt Lake City; Albuquerque; Las Vegas; Kansas City, Mo.; Phoenix; Dallas; Minneapolis.

New York, N.Y. -- To meet military heroes, in all their splendor   

Why go this weekend: Each spring, New York City hosts Fleet Week, taking place this year from May 23 through 30, an event where locals and visitors get a chance to see military demonstrations, tour visiting ships docked in Manhattan and Staten Island, and meet the men and women currently serving in the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.

Families will want to catch the Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade, a tradition in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn since 1867. All Veterans, regardless of age or war, are invited to participate. The parade starts at 11 A.M., runs along 3rd Avenue towards Marine Avenue, and continues to 4th Ave. before making its way to John Paul Jones Park for a ceremony in honor of those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Where to stay: Finding a reasonably priced hotel in New York City is daunting any time of year, and especially so during a holiday. We wouldn't normally steer you to a large chain, but we make an exception for the Holiday Inn Long Island City-Manhattan View. It's just five minutes from Manhattan by subway and, true to its name, you can expect scenic views of the city skyline from most rooms. From $202 per night, holidayinn.com.

 Easy getaway from: Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Baltimore, Md.; Providence, R.I.

Atlanta -- For fireworks and a jazz festival 

Why go this weekend: The Atlanta Jazz Festival turns 35 this year and fills the Piedmont Park area with music from May 26 through 28. Known for being one of the largest free jazz festivals in the country — it typically brings in 225,000 attendees over the three-day weekend — in past years the festival has featured performers like Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon and Shirley Horn as well as local artists. Kid-friendly areas sponsored by Cartoon Network and Publix Super Markets will also be set up in the park from noon until 6 P.M. while the live music plays from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday through Monday.

For more family fun, take the kids to Stone Mountain Park, a 35-minute drive from Atlanta, for some kid-friendly outdoor activities such as the "Sky Hike," a ropes-and-ladders obstacle course through the treetops. In honor of Memorial Day, the park is hosting evening fireworks and a laser show from Sunday through Monday (from $28 for those over age 12, from $22 for children ages 3-11).

Where to stay: Atlanta Marriott Suites Midtown is a family-friendly, all-suite experience that is within walking distance of Piedmont Park and just a 10-minute drive from the Georgia Aquarium. From $119 per night,marriott.com.

 Easy getaway from: Savannah; Charleston, S.C.; New Orleans; Nashville, Tenn.; Charlotte, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.

Miami -- For a beach party like no other 

Why go this weekend: Even fun-loving Vegas can't quite compete with the blow-out bash that takes place in Miami over Memorial Day weekend. Each year roughly 250,000 party-goers descend on the area for a booze-soaked bacchanalia full of music, dancing and lots and lots of skin.

Clubs around town host special Memorial Day kick-off parties, such as the one taking place on Sunday, May 29 at Cameo with DJ Drama, but the event everyone looks forward to is the Best of the Best Concert on Sunday, May 27 — a 10-hour long music extravaganza that features A-list acts like Rihanna, French Montana, and Serani in downtown Miami's Bicentennial Park (tickets start at $40, bestofthebestconcert.com). Of course, the point of the weekend is to honor our veterans, and Miami does so in style with the March of Colors — a parade that starts with a gun volley at All Wars Memorial Park at 10 a.m. and then traverses the Snake Creek Canal Bridge. There is also a wreath laying ceremony on Monday, May 28 at 10:30 a.m. in front of the Miami Beach Police Headquarters.

Where to stay: Book one of the 75 rooms at the Beacon Hotel and you'll be within walking distance of the beach, shopping and nightlife. The bright, Art Deco-inspired hotel was fully renovated in 2009 and offers free WiFi, continental breakfast and beach chairs and towels to guests. Beaconsouthbeach.com, from $151.

 Easy getaway from: Orlando, Fla.; Key West, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; Charleston, S.C.; New Orleans; Atlanta.

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