ONE LAST CHANCE FOR SUMMER FUN
Although fall doesn't officially arrive until Sept. 22, Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer for many Americans. With tourist season over, assuming the annual vacation budget hasn't been completely spent, every state has destinations and things to do that are affordable, interesting, and fun. This list features lesser-known places and events unique to Labor Day weekend, as well as iconic spots that shouldn't be missed. Whether plans call for a long weekend away or just a fun and inexpensive day trip, there's something for everyone.
Popular destinations in Alabama include the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and the Birmingham Museum of Art. Both are free, as is the Alabama State Capitol and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. Those willing to go a little farther afield can head to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville for an exploration of the space program ($24 for adults, $16 for children 5 to 12).
Travelers in the nation's most northerly state will likely find Anchorage the best place to start. Flights can be surprisingly affordable, particularly from West Coast cities. A recent search showed round-trip, nonstop flights from Seattle as low as $331 for weekend travel. Once there, rent a car and pick a scenic drive on iconic Alaskan roads such as the Seward Highway, Parks Highway, or Glenn Highway.
Phoenix can still be quite hot in September, but free activities such as hiking on Camelback Mountain or exploring Papago Park make the trip worthwhile. The park is home to the Hall of Flame firefighting museum, Phoenix Zoo, and Desert Botanical Garden ($10, $25, and $25, respectively, for adults). In Tucson, the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum ($22 for adults) includes a vast collection of desert flora and fauna. Fans of the Wild West may want to visit Old Tucson, site of many Western movies and TV shows, or the historic city of Tombstone.
Celebrate the Natural State's abundance of rivers, lakes, and dense woodlands before summer is over. Historic Hot Springs National Park, about an hour southwest of Little Rock, is free and features 47 natural hot springs. Music fans can check out the city's annual Jazz Fest (Aug. 30 to Sept. 2) over the holiday weekend (ticket prices vary). Or set out along the Arkansas Blues Trail, which features more than 20 attractions commemorating the lives and achievements of many legends of the genre.
In northern California, visit Mount Shasta and enjoy hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail, or take in the Cool Mountain Nights classic car show and street fair (Sept. 1). In Lake Tahoe, events include an arts and music festival and lakeside laser show. Scenic Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, hosts a Labor Day arts festival including musical performances. In southern California, check out Fiesta Hermosa in Hermosa Beach, a free biannual arts and crafts festival with live music (Sept. 1-3), or the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona ($20 for adult weekend admission, plus $15 parking), starting Aug. 31.
Kick off the holiday weekend in Colorado with an arts walk, held the first Friday of each month Denver's thriving arts communities. Then hit the road toward Vail for Gourmet on Gore, a free outdoor food and wine festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 3). The roughly 90-minute drive traverses mountain passes offering sweeping views of the Rockies. Along the way, take a side trip to Breckenridge for the annual Great Divide Art Festival (Sept. 1-3). A fun alternative is the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo (Aug. 24 to Sept. 3), where four admission tickets, four food items, and four non-alcoholic beverages cost $60.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford ($16 for adults, $10 for kids 5 to 16) is a fitting starting point for a tour of the many highlights on the Connecticut Freedom Trail, which features more than 130 sites in more than 50 towns. At the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat Ride ($30 for adults, $20 for children), visitors can experience two of the most iconic ways to travel in the 19th century. Top off the weekend with an old-fashioned county fair in Woodstock ($12 for adults, free for kids 10 and under).
Delaware is known for its beaches, but the First State has plenty to offer architecture and history buffs, too. Start in Wilmington with the Nemours Mansion & Gardens, built by renowned industrialist Alfred I. du Pont ($18 for adults and $8 for children). Set on 3,000 acres, the ornate mansion features the largest formal French gardens in North America and a collection of vintage cars. Then head south along Route 1 to the long, sandy beaches in Cape Henlopen State Park ($5 to $10 per vehicle), or enjoy a walk along the beach and boardwalk in Rehoboth (free; $2 an hour for parking).
Those looking for something to do in Florida besides hang out at a theme park or beach may want to head to Key West, the southernmost point in the United States. Among the unique attractions are the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Society and Museum ($15 for adults, $5 for kids), which features artifacts from the wreck of several Spanish ships sunk in the Straits of Florida in 1622; the Harry S. Truman Little White House, the 33rd president's "office away from the office"; and the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum ($14 for adults, $6 for kids), where the Nobel Prize-winning author penned "A Farewell to Arms," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and more.
In Georgia, visitors can take a tour of film locations including the home of President Snow from "The Hunger Games" and several locations from the show "Vampire Diaries." History buffs will enjoy a tour of historic towns and homes along the 100-mile Georgia Antebellum Trail, including the Old Governor's Mansion in Milledgeville ($10 for adults, $2 for students) and the State Botanical Garden of Georgia (free).
Fitting a Hawaii trip into a three-day weekend can be a challenge for most mainland Americans, but state residents and those with a few extra vacation days (and room in their travel budget) may want to consider heading to Maui. Explore Haleakala National Park and its moonscape-like summit ($25 a vehicle for a three-day pass) or go whale watching in Lahaina (boat tours from $40).
The Gem State offers a wealth of outdoor diversions, including hiking, climbing, river rafting, biking, and even golfing — all worthwhile ways to wind down the summer. The Eastern Idaho State Fair (Aug. 31- Sept. 8) in Blackfoot features a carnival, entertainment, exhibitions, and, of course, food. General admission starts at $2 for kids and $6 for adults. While in Blackfoot, check out the Idaho Potato Museum ($4 for adults, $2 for kids).
Few Labor Day weekend events are as iconic as the Chicago Jazz Festival at Millennium Park (Aug. 24-Sept. 2), and all performances are free. The Chicago History Museum is a good way to understand what makes the city tick ($19 for adults, $17 for students, free for kids 12 and under). The final Navy Pier Summer Fireworks show (free) will light up the skyline on Sept. 1. Head to the Taste of Polonia in Jefferson Park (Aug. 31-Sept. 3) for all things Polish, from pierogi to polka ($5 to $10, free for kids 12 and under).
For its bicentennial in 2016, the Hoosier State compiled a list of 200 things to see, do, and try — many of them free or cheap. Some are quirky: Find all 31 covered bridges in Parke County, see a 17-foot-tall popcorn box at the Jasper Gift Basket and Popcorn Co., etc. Others are more inspirational, including the Jackson home in Gary, where Michael, Janet, and their brothers grew up, and the Shrine of St. Mother Theodore Guerin, one of only eight U.S. saints.
Visitors will find some of what Iowa has to offer for Labor Day at Travel Iowa, which lists such off-the-beaten-path attractions as Albert the Bull of Audubon (who stands 30 feet tall and weighs 45 tons) and the Santa Fe Bridge (billed as the world's largest double-deck swing-span bridge). For music lovers, the annual National Old Time Music Festival in Le Mars runs Aug. 27 to Sept. 2. Rodeo fans can head to Dayton for its 81st annual rodeo (Aug. 31-Sept. 3). Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for kids 6 to 11.
Visitors whose knowledge of Kansas is limited to Dorothy Gale's farm — or the music of a popular 1970s classic rock band — have good reason to make this state a Labor Day destination. The state's agricultural roots are on display at the National Agricultural Center & Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs ($5 suggested donation). And if you really want to feel a connection to "The Wizard of Oz," don't miss Dorothy's House & Land of Oz in Liberal. There's no need to survive a tornado to get there; just pay $7 admission ($4.50 for kids).
Weekend adventures in Kentucky include Dinosaur World in Cave City ($12.75 for adults), which features more than 150 full-size dinosaur statues, and Mammoth Cave National Park, where visitors can opt for a $5 self-guided tour. Automotive enthusiasts can check out the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green ($10 for adults, $5 for kids 6 to 16), which marks its 24th anniversary Labor Day weekend.
Louisiana's mix of French, Spanish, and English cultural influences is in evidence at attractions such as the Cabildo ($12), site of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase in New Orleans' French Quarter. Nearby, grab beignets and coffee at the famous Café du Monde and enjoy other historic sites in Jackson Square. Nature lovers can head to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area for a swamp tour, offered by several companies. A two-hour tour through Cajun Country Swamp Tours in Breaux Bridge, for example, costs $20 for adults and $10 for kids 12 and younger.
White sand beaches, sweeping vistas, and cool ocean breezes await visitors to Maine's coast. At the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, a $10 admission fee gives visitors a look at works by American artists including Ernest Hemingway and Henry Strater in an “Americans in Paris” collaboration. Or visit the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, which winds through the forests of northern Maine, for a weekend of camping, canoeing, or fishing. At the "down to earth" Blue Hill Fair (Aug. 30 to Sept. 3), admission varies by day and age, but no ticket is more than $10.
History comes alive at places such as the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg ($5) and the Banneker-Douglass Museum (free), which is dedicated to the state's African-American heritage. Traditional sailboats take center stage at the annual Labor Day Skipjack Race and Festival on Deal Island, where many events are free. For a literal taste of coastal life in Maryland, the National Hard Crab Derby in Crisfield includes crab picking and cooking, carnival rides, arts and crafts, crab races, a parade, and more. Admission to almost all events is free Thursday, Friday, and Sunday; the carnival is $3 on Saturday.
For many towns in the Bay State, Labor Day marks the end of the summer tourist season. Events and activities include the Gloucester Schooner Festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 3), a block party, maritime heritage celebration, boat parade, and fireworks. In Boston, join a free Boston Walking Tour to learn about historic neighborhoods' development over the centuries.
The home of the Motor City has produced a cool driving guide featuring 20 scenic and historic routes. The Woodward Avenue tour, for example, stops at General Motors' Renaissance Center (free tours on weekdays) and the Detroit Institute of Arts ($14 for adults). Labor Day events include the 15th annual Blues Fest in Marquette (free on Friday, tickets required Saturday and Sunday); and the Saline Community Fair in Ann Arbor ($7).
Take in Minnesota's Nordic heritage with a visit to the Hjemkomst Center Museum in Moorhead, just across the border from Fargo, North Dakota, to see a replica of a Viking ship and hear the story of its voyage to Norway ($10 for adults). Nearby, check out the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion (Aug. 31-Sept. 3). Events include a parade, steam engines, crafts, musical performances, and more ($12 for adults, free for kids 14 and younger).
In Tupelo, outdoor enthusiasts can walk a portion of the 450-mile Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail, first trod by early settlers. Five sections totaling more than 60 miles are available to explore, and admission to the park is free. To explore the state's musical heritage, check out the Mississippi Blues Trail. The Mississippi Blues Commission website features a useful index of each stop in five parts of the state.
Start Labor Day weekend in a spot fit for a king: Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Situated on the Lake of the Ozarks, the park features the ruins of a castle built at the turn of the 20th century (no entry fee). Fifteen miles of trails lead visitors past unique geological formations, such as sinkholes and caves, and more than 400 species of plants. In Jefferson City, the Missouri State Penitentiary Museum offers a historical perspective on the notorious prison that operated for 168 years. Admission is $2 a person and included with the purchase of a prison tour (across the street).
Enjoy a slice of country life at the Ravalli County Fair and Rockin' RC Rodeo (Aug. 29 to Sept. 1), featuring a horse and mule show, cowboy bronco riding, and, of course, rodeos ($9 for adults). For something a bit more relaxing, head to one of Montana's 14 natural hot springs. Guitar lovers can check out the Crown Guitar Workshop & Festival in Bigfork (Aug. 28 to Sept. 1). The program includes nightly performances by artists in residence ($20 to $40).
Kick off Labor Day at the Nebraska State Fair (Aug. 23 to Sept. 3) in Grand Island, with nearly two dozen special events, concerts, midway rides and games, and more. Tickets are $12 for adults, $3 for kids. A quieter experience awaits at the Fontenelle Forest Nature Center in Bellevue, which features a birds of prey refuge, nature center, and boardwalk ($11 for adults, $8 for kids 2 to 17), or at Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, where visitors can spend quality time in "an urban oasis of beauty and tranquility" ($10 for adults, $5 for kids 6 to 12).
What happens in Nevada doesn't have to stay in Las Vegas. Those looking for something beyond the Strip should consider heading north to Carson City, home to the Nevada State Museum (formerly a branch of the U.S. Mint), where visitors will find exhibits on coin making and Nevada geology and history, among others ($8 for adults, free for kids 17 and younger). Add a bit of outdoor fun with a hike on Mount Rose, alongside the highest continuously open mountain pass in the country.
Have an authentic New England experience at the Lancaster Fair (Aug. 30 to Sept. 3) in northern New Hampshire. See pie-eating contests, 4-H exhibits, horse pulls, an oxen log obstacle course, and more ($15 or $17 for adults, free for kids under 3 feet tall). In the coastal city of Portsmouth, check out the Strawbery Banke Museum, a 10-acre outdoor museum that recounts more than 300 years of American history and includes heritage gardens, historic buildings, and traditional crafts ($19.50 for adults, $9 for kids, $48 for families).
For many, Labor Day weekend means it's time to head for the Jersey Shore. But there's lots to do beyond the beach and the boardwalk, including the 22nd annual Airfest at the Cape May Airport (Aug. 31-Sept. 3), where aviation enthusiasts can check out dozens of vintage aircraft and enjoy food, music, and more ($16 for adults, $10 for kids). Or head inland for the 47th annual Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival in Woodstown, featuring performances just for kids. Single-day tickets start at $45 for adults, $30 for kids 12 to 16.
Spicy food enthusiasts can get their fill at the annual Hatch Valley Chile Festival (Sept. 1-2). In historic Santa Fe, check out the annual burning of Zozobra ("Old Man Gloom"), in which a giant marionette effigy is set ablaze (Aug. 31) in a symbolic ritual to destroy the worries and troubles of the past year. If those events seem too hot to handle, hit the New Mexico Film Trails to view locations in the state where movies were shot.
Amid the legions of things to do during a long weekend in New York, consider a few lesser-known spots: the Museum of Jewish Heritage ($12 for adults), the Skyscraper Museum ($5 for adults, $2.50 for kids), and the National Museum of the American Indian (free), all within easy walking distance of each other in historic Battery Park. While there, catch a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry for a memorable view of New York Harbor.
Few places in North Carolina are as scenic and offer as much to do as the mountain town of Asheville, which features boutiques, galleries, antique shops, and much more. The free Living Asheville Arts Festival (Sept. 2) showcases the talents of local artists. In nearby Hendersonville, more than 150 vendors line eight blocks of downtown streets for the annual North Carolina Apple Festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 3), also free.
To get a unique perspective of North Dakota, start with the tiny town of Medora (population 112), gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park ($30 a vehicle, $15 on foot or bike) offers activities from hiking to horse riding. Looking for something a little less rural? Head to the state capital, Bismarck, and check out the Dakota Zoo ($9.50 for adults, $6.50 for kids 2 to 12) or the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum (free), which features high-tech displays and interactive exhibits kids will love.
Columbus' central location makes it an ideal spot for exploring the Buckeye State. For a dose of food, fun, and shopping, check out the annual Greek Festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 3). Admission of $5 for adults is valid for the entire four-day event. A short drive away, the 52nd annual Upper Arlington Labor Day Arts Festival (free) features the works of more than 200 artists, interactive performances and activities, and refreshments. Experience more of Columbus' lively cultural scene in the Short North Arts District, home to more than a dozen galleries, as well as dining and shopping.
For a taste of small-town Oklahoma life, check out the Labor Day celebration in downtown Henryetta, featuring a parade, carnival, rodeo, and fireworks. Outdoor enthusiasts can visit to the Chickasaw National Recreation Area for hiking, camping, and swimming. For urban adventures, head to Oklahoma City and stroll along the Bricktown Canal or through the Myriad Botanical Gardens. The city is also home to the American Banjo Museum, with more than 300 instruments on display ($8 for adults, $6 for kids 5 to 17).
The comedy series "Portlandia" may have helped raise Oregon's profile, but Portland isn't the only hip and cool place in the state. Farther west, towns such as Cannon Beach and Newport promise scenic views and a weekend filled with fun at the beach. The Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport was home to the whale from the movie "Free Willy," before the famous orca was released in Norway ($23 for adults, $20 for kids 13 to 17, $15 for children 3 to 12).
The Keystone State is home to moving memorials commemorating events that changed the course of American history. The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg is known as the "only museum in the United States that portrays the entire story of the American Civil War" ($12 for adults, $10 for students, $44 for families). The Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville pays tribute to the passengers and crew who thwarted an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 11, 2001.
Let Providence be your guide to Rhode Island. Start with the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium ($2 for the museum, $3 for the planetarium). After exploring the cosmos and the history of Rhode Island, relax in the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center ($5, or $2 for kids 6 to 12), or take a leisurely stroll around town and learn a bit more Providence history with a self-guided historical tour.
For a little fun by the sea, attend the free Beach Boogie & BBQ Festival in Myrtle Beach (Aug. 31-Sept. 1) to sample barbecue, cruise classic cars, dance to live music, and much more. For those who like a faster pace, Bojangles' Southern 500 NASCAR race in Darlington offers more thrills (starting at $35 for adults). Or head to Chapin for the annual Labor Day Festival and Parade (free), featuring a classic car show, live music, a children's carnival, and more.
Visitors to South Dakota may find it difficult to resist visiting Mount Rushmore National Memorial ($10 a vehicle). Walk the presidential trail, visit the sculptor's studio, take a ranger-led tour, and attend the evening lighting ceremony. Another famous destination is the town of Deadwood, where Old West legends such as Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok strolled the streets. Or get away from it all and marvel at the footprints of the past that nature has left at Badlands National Park ($20 a vehicle).
Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, offers a free "visitor walk-up" to the King's gravesite from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. daily. Otherwise, admission is $39.75 for adults and $35.80 for kids. For a more affordable music experience, head east to the Summertown Bluegrass Reunion (Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, $8 on Friday, $10 on Saturday) — three days of live music, food, dancing, crafts, and more. In Nashville, country music fans can recall the genre's legends during a stroll on the Country Music Walk of Fame and take a tour of historic Ryman Auditorium, the "mother church of country music" (starting at $22).
Houston, we don't have a problem. In fact, it's easy to visit the NASA Mission Control Center, where the team monitoring Apollo 13 heard the crew utter those famous words ($30 for adults, $25 for kids 4 to 11). And if Texas heat leaves you feeling a bit parched, quench the thirst along the Fort Worth Ale Trail, a mapped-out tour of the popular and growing local craft beer scene.
Utah is known for its unmatched scenic beauty and rich Mormon history. For the former, visit Zion National Park or Arches National Park, where visitors will find the iconic rock arches so often associated with the Utah wilderness. Entrance fees are $35 a vehicle for Zion and $30 for Arches (both valid for seven days). If the fascinating and unique history of Salt Lake City provides more intrigue, consider a walking tour of downtown, where many notable sites are within a short distance of each other.
No visit to the Green Mountain State would be complete without a trip to Burlington. The city's Church Street Marketplace is filled with shops, eateries, and opportunities for people-watching, only a 10-minute walk from the shores of Lake Champlain. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum features the Philadelphia II, a replica 1776 gunboat docked alongside the museum ($14 for adults, $8 for kids 6 to 17). Outdoor enthusiasts can go canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and more at Half Moon Pond State Park ($4 for adults, $2 for kids 4 to 13).
Beach lovers eager for one last sun-filled excursion can do no better than Virginia Beach, which boasts 14 miles of beaches and activities to suit nearly every mood. Prefer mountains? Head to the tiny town of Abingdon, in the Great Appalachian Valley, for the annual Main Street Busker Fest (Sept. 1), a free day of music, performances, food, and activities. In northern Virginia, sample wines, craft brews, and food at the annual Herndon Labor Day Festival (Sept. 3). Adult admission is $5 ($25 with wine tasting); kids 12 and under are free.
Though better known for its mountains, Washington state features scenic beaches on the collection of islands in the Puget Sound and on the Olympic Peninsula. Explore bookshops, coffeehouses, and beachfront on Whidbey Island or Bainbridge Island (Fort Ward State Park), or Constitution Hill on Orcas Island. Ferry rides to most of the islands cost about $14 for car and driver. Or, visit the majestic, sweeping beaches of La Push and Ocean Shores, and take in the town of Forks (home to the "Twilight" series of movies).
Slow down and relax at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, nestled in and around the small, namesake town, which offers visual delights of its own. Admission to the park is $10 per vehicle. Or take in any of a number of events scattered around the state, including the free Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta (Aug. 31-Sept. 2) and a three-day Jackson's Mill Jubilee with everything from bluegrass to zip lines.
Explore Milwaukee's sudsy heritage with a brewery tour offered by the big brewer in town, MillerCoors, or one of the growing number of local microbreweries. In Green Bay, head to Lambeau Field, home of the Packers, who will kick off their season the following weekend. Fans can take a stroll along the "Walk of Legends," which features 24 statues of Packer greats, or take a public tour of the stadium (starting at $15).
Wyoming is perhaps best known as the home of Yellowstone National Park, but the state offers Labor Day diversions worth checking out. In Jackson, a gateway to Yellowstone, check out the Jackson Hole Rodeo (Aug. 31-Sept. 1) where "the West is still wild" (starting at $20). The Terry Bison Ranch in Cheyenne is home to some 2,500 grazing bison and offers tours by train ($14 for adults, $7 for kids 4 to 12).