On the last Monday of May, Americans pause to observe Memorial Day, a national holiday that honors those that have died during their service in the United States’ armed forces. Decoration Day, as it was originally called, was founded in 1868, when family and friends of the dead would drape flowers over the graves of their loved ones whom they had lost in the American Civil War. But it wasn’t until 1971 that the observance of Memorial Day was established on a Monday. Now, as our country reflects, it also celebrates: the three-day weekend marks the glorious beginning of summer vacation season, when beaches and pools reopen to the public, amusement park rides creak back into service, and ever-patient employees planning their Memorial Day weekend getaways can finally cash in those summer Fridays.
According to the AAA, more than 36 million Americans travel during this weekend every year, bound for sunny escapes like South Carolina’s Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas, and Orlando, Florida. Food also plays a huge part in the festivities. Memorial Day travel has become synonymous with plates of corndogs, bowls of potato chips, and juicy burgers hot off the grill. Those in search of fried food can’t do better than brisket and barbecue in Austin or ribs in Memphis while listening to some rock ‘n roll blues, while many head to Kennebunkport, Maine, for endless clam chowder and lobster rolls before the summer crowds descend.
Whether you’re planning a weekend trip with friends, a backyard barbecue with family, or just looking to get away, Travel + Leisure tracks the places to go, things to eat, and celebrations to see on Memorial Day to kick off the sunny season right. So break out the sandals and sun hats, slather on the sunscreen, and take advantage of three-day weekend and springtime sales—because summer is finally here.