For many across the country, a weekend getaway has been nothing more than a pipe dream since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. But as more and more Americans become eligible for and are receiving COVID-19 vaccines, those who have spent more than a year refraining from travel may finally be feeling a glimmer of hope. As such, Memorial Day weekend might just be the opportunity some have been waiting for to take that much-needed vacation.
Still, eager globetrotters should consider a few factors before traveling, including the rate of COVID-19 infections in their hometowns and desired trip locations, as well as their own health risks and vaccination status. Be sure to check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State websites for up-to-date information before booking your trip, and plan to abide by all local guidelines, which may include wearing face masks and social distancing.
Whether you're looking to spend this Memorial Day unwinding on a white sand beach, reflecting on the past year in the mountains or honoring fallen soldiers at big-city war memorials, these destinations offer the chance to enjoy the three-day weekend outside of your own four walls.
Top Memorial Day Weekend Getaways:
-- Sanibel Island, Florida
-- Annapolis, Maryland
-- St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
-- Charleston, South Carolina
-- Big Bear Lake, California
-- Cape May, New Jersey
-- San Juan, Puerto Rico
-- Washington, D.C.
-- Jackson Hole, Wyoming
-- Austin, Texas
-- Tulum, Mexico
-- Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
-- Ocho Rios, Jamaica
-- Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands
Sanibel Island, Florida
A small, quiet island located off the southwest coast of Florida, Sanibel Island is a great spot to soak up some sun in late May's comfortable 80-degree temperatures. You'll likely encounter fewer crowds here than you would at other beach destinations in the Sunshine State. Plus, Memorial Day falls right before hurricane season and the start of Sanibel's rainy season in June, so you'll probably experience dry, sunny weather. Spend the long weekend searching for shells along Bowman's Beach, bird-watching at J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge or settling in for a magnificent sunset on nearby Captiva Island. Consider the Sundial Beach Resort & Spa for a fun-filled stay: Travelers can enjoy direct beach access, a sparkling pool and recreational activities like tennis and pickleball. Or, book an ocean-view condo or cozy beach house with a grill for more seclusion.
[Read: Best Places to Visit in Florida.]
Travelers looking to pay tribute to military men and women this Memorial Day can do so in the waterfront city of Annapolis. Mask up and get outside to watch the Memorial Day Parade through Main Street, or stroll through the rest of Historic Annapolis, where you're bound to see rows of American flags. If you're looking for a bit more space to stretch out, head to Quiet Waters Park. Spanning 340 acres, the park is ideal for biking, kayaking, picnicking or simply admiring panoramic views of the South River in late May's pleasant temperatures (high 70s to low 80s). Bicycle and boat rentals are available on-site and nearby. When hunger strikes, head to Boatyard Bar & Grill or Carrol's Creek Cafe for delicious seafood and outdoor seating. Accommodation options range from modern outposts like the Hotel Annapolis to picturesque bed-and-breakfast establishments to vacation rentals downtown or near the water.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Head to St. Thomas for the feel of an international vacation with the ease of domestic travel (Americans don't need a passport to visit this U.S. territory). Though it's not the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is arguably the most popular of the three main islands. And since the major tourist season is from December to March, you may find discounted hotel rates and fewer crowds without sacrificing enjoyable temperatures in the 70s and 80s. Beloved outdoor activities include swimming and snorkeling at Magens Bay and Coki Beach, plus shopping and strolling along duty-free Main Street. For panoramic views of nearby islands -- including Puerto Rico, on a clear day -- head to Paradise Point with your camera or smartphone in hand. Keep in mind, Americans ages 5 and older who are traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands must submit a COVID-19 test result in the U.S. Virgin Islands Travel Screening Portal within five days of embarking on their journey (whether or not they have been vaccinated). Learn more on the U.S. Virgin Islands tourism board website.
Charleston, South Carolina
Cobblestone streets, centuries-old oak trees and historic architecture make Charleston a charming getaway year-round. But visiting during Memorial Day weekend means you'll see the city at its best (albeit usually its busiest) before the oppressive summer heat sets in. Average May temperatures sit in the high 70s, rain is minimal and colorful gardens are in full bloom. Learn about the history of the city as you cruise through the Charleston Harbor on a boat tour, or admire the flora and fauna of Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. If your holiday weekend experience won't be complete without a beach trip, head to nearby Folly Beach (12 miles south of the city) or Sullivan's Island (10 miles southeast) for a day. Retire for the evening at luxurious, highly rated Hotel Bennett, or stay in one of many quaint vacation rentals to save some cash.
[Read: Best Places to Visit in May.]
Big Bear Lake, California
By late May, travelers can bid farewell to snowfall in Big Bear Lake and say hello to pleasant temperatures in the low 70s. Located in the San Bernardino National Forest in Southern California, about 80 miles northwest of Palm Springs, Big Bear separates itself from typical long-weekend beach destinations with its endless outdoor activities, including fishing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and paddleboarding. Canoes, kayaks and other equipment rentals are available from a bevy of local sports shops dispersed throughout Big Bear Lake. Although there are a few small swimming beaches on the lake, including Meadow Park, keep in mind that the water is fairly chilly year-round. When it comes to lodging, take your pick from multiple resorts, inns, vacation homes, cabins and lodges. If you plan to travel with your pet, Big Bear Lakefront Cabins offers 35 pet-friendly cabins with amenities like hot tubs and swimming pools overlooking the lake or lush mountains.
Cape May, New Jersey
Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of tourist season in Cape May, and it's no surprise why. A quintessential summertime escape for many Americans, this historic seaside town boasts pleasant temperatures in the 70s come late spring and played a significant role in military defense during World War II. Travelers will enjoy stretching out along Cape May's city beaches, strolling through the outdoor Washington Street Mall and admiring well-preserved Victorian architecture adjacent to the shoreline. The New Jersey town is also a great spot for birding, and there are multiple wineries in the area. You won't find chain hotels in Cape May, but you can stay at a darling inn, boutique hotel or rental cottage. Just keep in mind that traffic jams are common -- especially during the busy season -- so be sure to plan your drive accordingly.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
To journey to Puerto Rico, vacationers from the mainland United States must present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of traveling, plus submit an online travel declaration form. Once approved, travelers can enjoy San Juan's beaches and nature preserves, including El Yunque National Forest, or take a stroll through picturesque Old San Juan. If you'd like to sink your toes in the sand, head to Condado Beach or Ocean Park Beach to enjoy May's 80-degree temps. Lodging options include hotels like the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel (located on the beach) and the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel (near the ocean), as well as an array of modern, well-equipped vacation rentals with pools, city views and other amenities. Americans do not need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico.
[Read: The Best Zip Lines in Puerto Rico.]
When it comes to celebrating the true reason behind Memorial Day, nowhere is quite as patriotic as Washington, D.C. Honor military personnel with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, where more than 400,000 fallen soldiers and veterans (plus their family members) are buried. On the National Mall, wander along the long granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to read the names of more than 58,000 Americans who died during the Vietnam War. Then, head to the World War II Memorial to pay tribute to those who perished on the battlefields. After a long day of exploring, head back to your elegant room at The Hay-Adams -- just steps from the White House -- or bed down at a more modestly priced Airbnb. Average May temperatures in the nation's capital tend to sit in the mid-70s.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Though temperatures are still creeping their way into the mid-60s come Memorial Day, visiting Jackson Hole during this shoulder season promises exceptional wildlife-viewing opportunities (think: eagles, bison and moose), cheaper hotel rates and fewer crowds to contend with. Spring also signals the reopening of many park roadways in nearby Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, as well as the start of whitewater rafting season. Granite Hot Springs reopens for the summer season in late May, so travelers can plan on taking a dip in the steamy 93-degree thermal pool after a fun day of hiking and exploring. Opt for a rustic cabin to fully embrace Jackson Hole's changing seasons in the wilderness, or pump up the opulence with a stay at the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Jackson Hole.
Visit the Lone Star State for an authentic Memorial Day weekend experience, complete with mouthwatering Texas barbecue, temperatures in the 80s and plenty of time enjoying the great outdoors. Austin offers something for everyone, from sightseeing at scenic Mount Bonnell to kayaking in Zilker Metropolitan Park (rental boats are available on-site through Zilker Park Boat Rentals). The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake is another beloved natural area where travelers and locals alike can explore quiet trails and picnic along the edge of the water. And don't forget to explore the grounds of the State Capitol in central Austin to learn more about Texas history. At the end of the night, bed down at a top hotel like The Driskill, an Airbnb or even a campsite in nearby Hill Country.
With its white sand beaches, Instagram-worthy boutique hotels and average May temperatures in the low 80s, Tulum may be just the change of scenery you've been dreaming of. Spend your days sunbathing at Playa Paraiso, exploring the Tulum ruins or swimming in El Gran Cenote. Highly rated accommodations worth considering include the Jashita Hotel and Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, though the town's scenic selection of Airbnbs are a great choice as well. Hotels and beaches in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo are currently operating at 60% capacity to keep travelers safe. Americans are not required to take a COVID-19 test and present a negative result prior to traveling, but they do need to provide a negative COVID-19 test result within three days of their return flight in order to travel home to the United States.
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Ring in the start of summer on the shores of Rehoboth Beach. Calm waters and temperatures in the mid-70s make this Delaware beach town a great option for families, and travelers of all ages will enjoy walking down the mile-long boardwalk filled with restaurants and shops. When you're not sunbathing on the sand or relaxing on the balcony of your vacation rental or hotel room (try the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel for ocean views, retro decor and kid-free pool hours), head about 2 miles north to Cape Henlopen State Park to fish, hike and bird watch.
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Leave your worries behind with a relaxing long weekend in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. To travel to this Caribbean hot spot, Americans ages 12 and older must present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test taken within three days of traveling, as well as an approved travel authorization form submitted within one week of traveling. Once you arrive, you must stay at an approved hotel, villa, apartment or guest house within Jamaica's Resilient Tourism Corridors, and you may only visit authorized tourist attractions. While this plan may sound limiting, travelers can rest assured that hundreds of top-notch lodging options and popular things to do -- like Dunn's River Falls and Park -- are on the approved list, promising a safe but fun tropical getaway. Resort pools, private beaches and other amenities are open at most properties, but be sure to check with your specific hotel for more information. Travelers can expect temperatures in the 80s and the potential for scattered showers.
Celebrate Memorial Day weekend in Denver to enjoy the city's abundance of outdoor spaces and 70-degree weather, as long as you're willing to put up with a little rain (May is typically the city's wettest month, seeing about 2 inches of rainfall on average). One top thing to see is Washington Park, which offers 165 acres of walking paths, picnic spots, gardens and lakes. Travelers can also wander through historic Larimer Square, an outdoor entertainment and dining district, or explore Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre, a naturally formed outdoor venue with on-site hiking trails. As far as lodging goes, vacationers will have their pick of swanky options like the Four Seasons Hotel Denver and airy rental lofts in the heart of downtown.
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands
To explore the Caribbean paradise of the Turks and Caicos Islands, travelers must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within five days of departure from the U.S. They must also fill out a travel authorization form and purchase travel insurance. Once approved, vacationers can spend their time in the tourist hot spot of Providenciales (aka Provo) to enjoy diving and fishing, and explore the Northwest Point Marine National Park and Northwest Point Pond Nature Reserve. Provo is also home to gorgeous white sand beaches, including Grace Bay and Taylor Bay. Although May might bring the occasional rain shower, hotel rates and dissipating crowds during this shoulder season make Memorial Day weekend a great time to visit. Travelers can expect temperatures in the mid-80s during their vacation. Stay at Seven Stars Resort & Spa or Wymara Resort and Villas for some pampering, or opt for a more private villa rental near the beach.
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Nicola Wood is an Editor for the Travel section at U.S. News & World Report, where she manages the Best Cruises product. She also edits travel guides, hotel reviews, vacation ranking lists and features content, works with freelancers, writes hotel profiles and more. Each year, Nicola evaluates cruise ships and writes and edits new cruise ship profiles as part of the Best Cruise Lines rankings. She has been interviewed by media outlets like the Frommer's Travel Show and MarketWatch for her expertise and commentary on the cruise industry.
Nicola joined U.S. News as a Copy Editor on the Autos team in 2016 before transitioning to her current role in 2018. She has written for USA Today, Condé Nast Brides and other publications.
An avid traveler, Nicola has visited 22 countries (and counting). She is a proud alumna of Florida State University, where she received her bachelor's degree in English: Editing, Writing and Media Studies. You can connect with Nicola on LinkedIn or email her at email@example.com.