8 Getaway Ideas for a Cheap and Fun Memorial Day Weekend
Last year, more than 39 million Americans traveled during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, according to information compiled by data website Statista.
If you’re looking for a getaway without breaking the bank, there are several options for a short break from your “real” life this Memorial Day. Here are eight affordable three-day weekend destinations.
1. Catalina Island, California
Catalina Island has something for everyone. According to the Catalina Island Chamber of Commerce, activities include golfing, hiking, museums, shopping, fishing, paddleboarding, and parasailing.
There also are plenty of family-friendly activities, including a glass-bottom boat tour, and, of course, beautiful beaches. Even though it can be pricey to spend time on Catalina Island, there are ways to save money.
Look ahead for deals and coupons on riding the ferry to get to the island. You can expect to pay more than $70 for a round-trip fare. You might be able to get a break if you get a package through one of the hotels on Catalina Island.
There are campgrounds and public beaches, as well. If you have your own snorkeling gear, you can plan your own side trip. Plus, there’s a nature center at Avalon Canyon with free admission.
The best prices on hotel rooms will be for those that aren’t on the island. You can stay in hotels in California towns near ferry terminals for less than $100 a night. A hotel room on Catalina Island, though, can cost you more than $300 a night. If you’re trying to save money, you might be better off getting a room in Wilmington or San Pedro and going to Catalina for a day trip.
You can snag a spot an Airbnb for close to the same cost, with the advantage of getting the whole house instead of a room. The sharing economy has transformed travel by making it more affordable.
If you’re bringing your family and want more space, an Airbnb can be the right solution. In fact, consider booking an Airbnb in San Pedro, for less than $200 a night. That way, you can spend one day on Catalina Island and one in the San Pedro area.
2. Honeyman Memorial State Park, Oregon
If you love the outdoors, the Jessie M. Honeyman Memorial State Park in Oregon can be a great choice for the Memorial Day weekend.
Year-round camping and day use are both available. Tent sites start at $21 each per night, or you can book a yurt starting at $46 per night. There also are group tent sites and full hookup spots for those with RVs. Other facilities, including picnic shelters and a meeting hall, are available for reasonable rates.
You can enjoy a range of activities from hiking and biking to swimming, fishing, and kayaking. There’s a boat ramp for larger watercraft along with hot showers and a playground. All this can make your Memorial Day weekend fun and frugal with no trouble.
3. New Orleans, Louisiana
Looking for something a little more upbeat? New Orleans might be just the place for you.
I’ve visited New Orleans a few times and have always been able to find low-cost and fun opportunities. One my favorite ways to enjoy the city is to walk around the French Quarter and the Garden District. It costs nothing to look at the architecture and all the beautiful homes. Plus, you can find a lot of low-cost places to eat, including the famous Cafe Du Monde with its famous beignets.
Other cheap things to do, according to the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., include:
- The Old U.S. Mint, home to the New Orleans Jazz Museum, has free admission.
- Hop on the streetcar for $1.25 (exact change needed) per ride. You can get Jazzy Passes for streetcars and buses for one, three, five, and 31 days if you plan to use public transit a lot during your visit.
- Check out the cemeteries. I loved my visit to Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. You also can sign up for a haunted cemetery tour. It’s possible to book some tours for as little as $16 per person, although others cost almost $50 or more.
- Browse the New Orleans Botanical Garden. It costs $8 for an adult admission.
- If the weather is nice, you can enjoy the Lafitte Greenway, which has beautiful bike and walking paths connecting different neighborhoods.
You can stay in French Quarter hotels for a little more than $200 a night. If you’re more adventurous, the City House Hostel New Orleans can cost $165 per night. Save money by staying farther out. For example, some hotels in Slidell cost around $60 a night.
Don’t forget to check out Airbnb. You can get a whole place to yourself for around $100 per night. If you’re going solo or with one other person, you might be able to get a private room for under $50 per night.
No matter what you do, you’ll never be bored in New Orleans — even if you don’t spend much money.
4. Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Cape Cod is always beautiful. Along the National Seashore, you’ll find many sandy beaches, marshes, lighthouses, hiking trails, and ponds for a variety of activities. It’s possible to swim, fish, bike, paddle, and enjoy cultural experiences anywhere around the National Seashore and wider Cape Cod area.
If you plan to drive over beaches accessible to motor vehicles, you’ll need a permit, which can cost $50 or $75 for seven days. The number of permits is limited, so it’s a good idea to get yours early if you want it for Memorial Day.
Even if you don’t get into the water, there’s plenty to do in Cape Cod. Attractions that offer interesting experiences and good views include:
- Pilgrim Monument
- Highland Light and other lighthouses
- Cape Cod Rail Trail
- Whydah Pirate Museum
- Sandwich Glass Museum
- The Adventure Park at Heritage Museums & Gardens
Most of these activities are inexpensive, costing less than $20, and many are free. The Adventure Park is an exception, with a ticket costing around $60.
There are plenty of towns along Cape Cod, making it easy to find inexpensive places to eat and shop. Plus, it’s fun to wander around and feel like you’re entering the past.
You can find hotel rooms in the Cape Cod area for under $100 per night. If you want more space, you can find little cottages through Airbnb for between $100 and $150 per night.
5. Atlantic City, New Jersey
Pick up the pace a bit when you visit Atlantic City. It’s a fun combination of old architecture and new amusements, and you can get your fill of just about anything in one place. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority says there are several activities for under $20 as well as free attractions, such as:
- Atlantic City beaches (free)
- Atlantic City Boardwalk (free)
- Crafters Village (free)
- Civil Rights Garden (free)
- Atlantic City Aquarium ($10)
- Haunted Tales (different services from $1 to $17.50 for two people)
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not ($16.99)
You can rent bicycles for a small fee and ride the boardwalk, or take reasonably priced tram rides. This allows you to pick and choose your experiences while in Atlantic City.
And, of course, there are lots of casinos and other opportunities to lose your money in games of chance.
Staying at one of the resort casinos can get pricey ($200 to $300 per night or more), but there are many low-cost hotels in the area for $70 to $80 a night.
Prices for entire homes or apartments in Atlantic City can cost between $100 and $300 per night. You can get a better deal for a private room. For less than $100 per night, an Airbnb private room might get you closer to the boardwalk or casinos.
6. Austin, Texas
Austin is a cool town with plenty to offer. Enjoy the nightlife on 6th Street over the weekend where live music spills out into the street and there’s plenty to see and do. Even spending money on a few drinks or some food won’t set you back too much. I was able to snag a late-night slice of pizza for less than $3.
If you’re looking for free or cheap things to do in Austin, TourTexas has suggestions:
- Butler Trail biking and walking (free)
- Barton Springs Pool swimming ($8 for adult nonresidents)
- Zilker Park picnic, walking, other activities (free, but some activities might have a small fee)
- HOPE Outdoor Gallery park for graffiti art (free)
Those with a little money to spare can rent a canoe, standup paddleboard, or kayak. Rentals at Lady Bird Lake run about $18 per hour or $54 for the whole day. It’s possible to use your watercraft to access Barton Springs from Lady Bird Lake on your self-powered watercraft, as I found out during my excursion.
You could pay between $125 and $150 per night if you stay at a hotel in downtown Austin. If you’re willing to stay further out, you can find hotel rooms for closer to $60 or $70 per night.
With Airbnb, you can find whole apartments for $50 to $100 per night. Adventurous types who don’t mind sharing can couch surf for as little as $19 per night.
7. Charleston, South Carolina
Looking for a little southern charm and hospitality? Charleston offers a great three-day weekend opportunity. A lot of history and interesting architecture provide ample opportunities to wander around to see the interesting sights — no charge for looking.
If you want more direction, here are a few fun ideas for affordable activities in the area:
- The Charleston City Market and King Street offer plenty of shopping opportunities to admire and buy at reasonable prices.
- The Citadel military campus has extensive grounds to wander, and if you’re lucky you might catch a dress parade.
- The Battery is a waterfront park with room for picnics, monument-visiting, and exploring. Kids can climb on the cannonballs. Plus, the Battery is surrounded by mansions that are a treat to look at.
- Angel Oak is a must-see. Estimated to be more than 400 years old (some people claim it’s 1,500 years old), the tree spreads its branches over beautiful scenery.
- Folly Beach offers chances to sit near the water and visit the nearby pier.
- Sign up for a free walking tour of Charleston, based on a theme of your choice. There are ghost tours, harbor tours, Civil War tours, and more. The tours are free, but you might want to give your guide a generous gratuity.
Charleston is an affordable city, with food and shopping ranging from cheap to expensive. There’s something for almost every taste and budget.
Staying in a Charleston hotel will set you back by around $90 per night. If you don’t mind spending more, you can stay at one of the many little inns and bed-and-breakfast establishments around the city. One of them, the Battery Carriage Inn, runs about $300 per night — and there’s a three-night minimum.
Airbnb offers a good chance to find homes or apartments for between $150 and $200 per night. Or get a private room and save money with prices closer to $70 to $80 per night.
8. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Looking for something quaint and fun in the upper Midwest for the Memorial Day weekend? Mackinac Island has you covered. You’ll have to make special arrangements to get there since the island is in Lake Huron. Round-trip ferry tickets can be as cheap as $24 for adults. Look for family deals and multiday passes to get better rates.
There’s plenty to do on Mackinac Island, much of it affordable, according to the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau:
- Island tours (on foot, bike, or a rented drive-yourself buggy)
- Ste. Anne Catholic Church museum
- Surrey Hill Square Carriage Museum
- Straits of Mackinac (fishing)
- Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes
Consider spending time at Mackinac state parks. There are several attractions, with many costing less than $15 for an adult admission. You can also buy combo packs. Depending on what you want to see and how many people are in your party, it might be worth getting a Family Heritage Pass for $85. It includes admission to all the historic sites for two adults and all dependent children.
Shops and eateries have reasonable prices, and there’s often something going on to provide visitors an interesting spectacle.
If you don’t mind camping on the mainland and taking the ferry over for a day, you can save quite a bit of money. Some campgrounds cost as low as $30 for two nights. You might pay more, depending on the size of your site and the availability of electricity.
Stay in a hotel on the mainland in a town like St. Ignace, and you’ll pay $70 to $80 a night. Want to stay on the island? You’d pay $200 or more in many cases.
Airbnb offers affordable stays on Mackinac Island, with accommodations ranging from a luxury tent ($60 per night) to an entire cottage ($136 per night).
Other ideas for an affordable Memorial Day weekend getaway
If you’re “on a budget, your destination should be somewhere you can drive to, not have to fly to,” said travel filmmaker and adventure expert JJ Yosh.
If you don’t live close enough to drive to one of the best Memorial Day weekend getaways, you can create your own trip. Here are three ideas for enjoying an affordable three-day weekend, even if you don’t go far out of town.
1. Stick to nature
“Research interesting geologic features in your state, or pick one nearby, and plan out your route to get there,” Yosh said. “Speaking of the route, this is part of your epic trip. Take the scenic way and stop as much as you want.”
Yosh also suggested checking out any wildlife refuges, hiking trails, and state or national parks. Being outside doesn’t cost much. Bring a picnic lunch and camp along the way (or stay in cheap local hotels) to have a road trip the entire family can enjoy.
2. Go as a group
Plan a trip with other families or couples, recommended Jeff Manheimer, the co-founder of travel aggregation website Tripping.com. That way, you can split costs, including the price of a vacation rental and groceries to prepare food.
“Unlike a hotel room, a vacation rental offers common areas where everyone can gather and enjoy cheap meals at home, rather than paying for expensive restaurants,” Manheimer said.
You often can get a vacation rental for $500 to $1,000 for the entire getaway, he said. Divide that cost among families, couples, or individuals to make your weekend more affordable.
If you have the stomach for it, consider looking for last-minute deals, although that can be harder during a busy time like Memorial Day.
3. Be a tourist in your own city
Often, you tend to take the place you live in for granted. Last year, my son and I took a day trip to a local state park (you can buy a two-year state park pass for $20 with vehicle registration in Idaho) and stopped for burgers and shakes on the way home. And we did a different cheap, local excursion on each of the next two days. That Memorial Day fun cost a total of less than $75.
“Go online and Google the top things to see and do in your city,” said Natalie Tanner, the founder of The Educational Tourist, a kid-friendly travel website. “You’ll be surprised to find new things, even if you’ve lived in a place for a long time.”
She suggested taking along snacks to cut down costs. If you decide to drive, create special activities or listen to an audiobook. Try to find ways to connect with your travel mates, especially if you’re traveling with kids. Part of the fun of a Memorial Day weekend is making memories, rather than spending time playing games on a smartphone.
You can use this strategy for the next town. Choose a place within a two- or three-hour drive and explore. Get up, drive, see the sights, and then stay a night in an inexpensive hotel. The next day, spend a few more hours sightseeing before you drive back home. After a quick trip, you can spend the third day of the holiday weekend relaxing at home.
Don’t break the bank on Memorial Day
Even if you have student loan debt, you can travel during the Memorial Day weekend. You have to plan ahead and be frugal. By choosing small- to mid-sized cities in different parts of the U.S., you can save money on everything from activities to lodging to food.
If you can’t swing a trip to a faraway city, consider staying close to home. Memorial Day weekend is a perfect time to explore your own city or state, go camping, or just goof around making memories at a family reunion.
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